Sunday, April 19, 2009

Obama under Indian lens

Obama under Indian lens

It appears that Obama might visit India soon. People would be looking at the event with interest. One set of admirers would no doubt applaud his color, without reference to his stance about India. Another set, less given to emotions, would look quite critically, and comparisons with Bush would inevitable. Of course, this visit will take only after the general elections in India are over and dust settles considerably. I am sure his advisers will advise him on this aspect, and not rush such a visit.

The popular, but quite a misleading perception here is that the Bush administration was more favourably disposed towards India and that the Obama policies may be more prickly for the mandarins in New Delhi.

But, this perception is partially [only partially] true. Bush was seized with one big idea: to improve America’s bilateral relationship with India, which had been estranged over the nuclear issue. Hence the singleminded determination with which he pursued the July 2005 civilian nuclear cooperation agreement, firmly overruling the objections of the non-proliferation zealots in the Beltway. Though here too the opinions are split. In contrast, Obama is keen on pouring money into Pakistan, to the chagrin of India.

USA is generally viewed as an unreliable strategic partner, and USA does not have an exactly a big share of Indian arms shopping. Time and again American military manufacturers have submitted their hardware for evaluation, always to falter at export license. Spin off is still there for the manufacturers, as their equipment is put to exacting tests and evaluation. And Indian evaluations go far, very very far. On this score Obama is yet to tested, and who knows he might as well pass too.

The bilateral relations have been at very frustrating cusp, and only a little push is all that is required to hurtle them this or that way. The US military-industrial complex aware of this, post-May 1998, that engagement with India was in Washington’s larger interest. But Bush does not appear to have pursued this with diligence.

While Bush kept himself clear of Kashmir issue, Obama tried to rush in. But fortunately, wiser counsels have prevailed and he back tracked from a pro-active [read anti India] stance. But his initial moves are not likely to be forgotten in a hurry, and an element of suspicion would remain.

But only the future would tell.