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इंडियन आवाज़     13 May 2021 09:07:05      انڈین آواز

Obama visit: Will rhetoric turn into action?

President Obama visit to India is a triumphant – but will the rhetoric be backed by action from Washington, asks T N ASHOK

United States 1st President of Afro-American origin Barack Obama’s India visit underpinned a lot of hopes for strengthening India United States ties further. Did the visit achieve the expectations of the overtly optimists and bely the hopes of the hopeless pessimists, the traditional US bashers in Indian polity. The fact of the matter is that, though the Obama visit, less hyped than Sun Pictures Enthiran’s promos, by the media or the political pundits, was justifiably very balanced: there were excellent analysis from panels on most TV channels, particularly the ones on NDTV and Doordarshan News. Though the panel on both weren’t that scholarly or distinguished excepting perhaps India’s former foreign secretary, Shashank, the views expressed by the members were to the point and summarised and analysed his the impact of his visit correctly.

Taking the threads from the discussion, I add my own comments: Obama’s visit started off on a dull note and under a cloud in the backlash of his sudden reversals in the senate where he lost a good many seats. Though Obama was gracious to take the rap for the defeat, it wasn’t his fault at all. Obama is not a magician to provide a cure-all for the devastation caused by mavericks in American biz that triggered recession worldwide and huge losses and job losses at home. He inherited a legacy of a previous regime that despite a trillion-dollar deficit left unchecked the financial buccaneers who wrecked the American economy overnight with their thoughtless financing and money lending in a system that didn’t have many checks and balances like India has.

Obama has still time to rectify the defects though his health care initiatives, obviously spurred by the former 1st lady and now secretary of state Hilary Clinton, hasn’t found much muster with the public as the American psyche is not to fund or subsidise others at ones cost. Therein lies the great dilemma for pushing his progressive schemes. 
It is in this context that Obama’s visit assumed more importance for the Democrats and more so for Obama himself than for India which was more concerned about only three issues – Pakistan harbouring terrorist camps, Nuclear Safeguards and Outsourcing. For Obama redressing problems at home, mostly growing unemployment and sluggish growth (5% GDP growth, its less than India’s 8% GDP), declining dominance as a world power, the growing alienation from the arab world because of iran and iraq foreign policy initiatives, concerns over Afghanistan , were the main issues. 
That he struck deals worth US $ 10 Billion with Indian corporate world to generate more than 50,000 jobs back at home in a recession ridden economy was a singular major achievement. It’s not a big give away for India, since the corporate leaders forging these deals hope to make at least US $ 100 billion over the next few years. United States needed India’s support badly as another democratic power with a growing economic might to steer US out of economic recession and re-establish its dominance in world polity. The US foreign policy accords the highest place to China where huge investments flow from expat Chinese from united states and MNC investments for manufacturing facilities for the sake of cheap labour – outsourcing just as IT facilities are outsourced to India. At the same time US is greatly concerned about the growing economic might of China, leave alone its military might and nuclear capabilities, that it desperately wanted to polarise it, at least in the region with India as its powerful ally.
And that’s why Obama, just as his predecessor Bill Clinton is brilliantly articulate in his oratorical skills and presentation, clarity of thought, sincerity of purpose, and dogged in determination in pursuing his objectives, played to the gallery in India. 1st day of his visit left many in India with some doubts whether Obama’s visit was more self-centred but the 2nd day dispelled all doubts. His address to Indian parliamentarians cleared the clouds. Brilliantly orchestrated without a glitch or hitch, he backed fully India’s demand for a permanent seat in the United Nation’s security council with the famous Spiderman quote: “ with great power comes great responsibility”. Herein he made obtuse references to India shying away from human rights issues worldwide. He was not wrong from his perspective but Indian foreign policy dictates are borne more out of economic interests than political – so India keeps an arms distance from US foreign policy statements. On Iran or Iraq, not wanting to alienate itself from the Muslim world which fuels India’s manufacturing and transporation sector with crude oil and there is a huge Muslim population at home to take care of in terms of sentiments.
And for all the sceptics, who thought Obama carefully avoided any reference to Pakistan, as it wanted to retain it as one of its strongest political allies, Obama was unequivocal in saying Pakistan (he pronounced it right as against other us presidents who called it pack istan), should stop harbouring terrorist camps within its borders. He literally played to the gallery here in India. That’s what all Indians were gleefully expecting him to say but wondered if he would at all? A stable Pakistan is more in India’s interests, he rightly said, because Afghanistan with its rebel Moslem and fractious groups could turn out to be the world’s cesspool for terrorism. And extend beyond Pakistan to India, Central Asia and Russia, destabilising these growing regions of the world. May be that why he proposed a regional security arrangement between India, Pakistan, Central Asia and Russia to make the area more stable, but there is no takers because of Pakistan’s reservations.

So many references to Gandhi, Tagore, Swami Vivekananda, all to placate an Indian audience. His bold answers on Pakistan first at the town hall meeting at Mumbai, his first port of call to honour the victims of the 26/11 carnage and his impassioned pleas to bring the perpetrators of the heinous crime to justice, all went down well with the Indian polity and audience. All in all, not so much of a historic visit or dramatic speech, but a timely visit with a calculated objective of give and take from India.    

The India – US ties has expanded rapidly since the beginning of the 21st century, particularly from 2005 with the advent of India’s Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh visit to the US when they agreed to cooperate in diverse sectors including civil nuclear technology.

Thus the new era of India-US relations gave rise to high expectations on both sides. While India and the US identified areas of cooperation, their political agendas don’t exactly coincide. And we have to see if the enthusiasm and euphoria over Obama’s visit sustains in its shared objectives when he gets back home and the statements he would make from White House. But Obama or the democrats are not known for double speak either. Posterity will tell if India gets the Security Council seat and if US can help India in containing the terrorist’s threats coming from across the borders – from Pakistan and beyond.

Many prudes’ and the not so China favourites in the US probably feel that Japan and India together would serve as a counter to China in Asia. Because, US foreign policy thinkers still dont know whether to treat China as a friend or foe, though on the one hand investmens rise in the communist state, they are afraid of its rising economic might backed by military prowess. Political analysts opine there is a conflict of interests between China and the US. So US must collaborate with countries that could restrict China’s rise in the international economic and monetary system. India is seen as the perfect foil to china. And that’s why Obama visit to India is more than significant.
The singular advantage of a proactive India-US friendship is freeing america from its interaction and burden of Pakistan. The US leadership wants two independent but paralell tracks of interaction with India and Pakistan, as each relationship is important in its own ways.
The newfound closer India-US relationship relates more to the economic advantages both gain mutually. India becomes a big market to private sector and US MNCs and transnational corporations keen to invest and sell their products. Non-resident Indians based in the US are a factor as their growing political and economic clout in the US brings the two countries closer. 
How is the concept of India balancing China real? Though China and the US differ in political systems and thoughts, their economic ties are phenomenal to be ignored and cannot override political conisderations. US multinationals invest more in China than in democratic India and the Chinese groups are investing in the US. This growing economic tie will further expand and there is no danger of the Sino-US relationship getting bad at any point of time that the US would seek a India balancer.
Political analysts say the Obama Administration, now enjoying equally good relations with India and Pakistan, should abandon its ‘hands-off’ Kashmir and other India-Pakistan problems. Because, the resumption of the india Pakistan talks within the spirit and framework of the Shimla agreement would reduce the distance between India and Pakistan and arm the latter to deal firmly with mainland Pakistan-based militant groups. And the US therefore cannot restricts its role to just asking Pakistan to combat terrorism more firmly. The need of the hour is for the US to facilitate a conflict resolution mechanism between India and Pakistan to rein in the runaway terrorist groups.

Writer is Ex Economics Editor, PTI

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