Indo-US ties : All eyes on Obama

Given the nature of the growing Indian economy and its futuristic profile, New Delhi today needs nuclear power on a very large scale.

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures as he gives a speech in front of students at the University of the Sacred Heart in Tokyo. (photo credit: REUTERS)
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures as he gives a speech in front of students at the University of the Sacred Heart in Tokyo.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Ever since American President Barack Obama’s announcement of his visit to India as its Republic Day chief guest, speculation is rife as to how it would shape the already-growing ties between New Delhi and Washington. During his visit to  the United States, a nation which had considered him a political outcast for a long time, in September-October this year,  Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi  struck a fine equation with the American  administration, Congress, corporate barons  as well as the Indian diaspora. New Delhi and Washington had a comprehensive dialogue on energy, health, space, women’s empowerment, trade, skills, strategy and security. Some  commentators said in the midst of the diaspora Prime Minister Modi was being like some international rock star !
There has, however, remained a stalemate in Indo-US relations over certain crucial issues, including India’s nuclear supplier liability law, intellectual property rights, bilateral investment, TFA, H1B visas,  etc.  The implementation of the historic India-US civil nuclear cooperation agreement (2008) is still a far cry. In 2009, New Delhi allocated two sites in Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh for American companies Westinghouse and GE-Hitachi. But it has not taken off. 
Despite the 2005 Framework for the India-US Defense Relationship, little has moved so far  “to  increase opportunities for technology transfer, collaboration, co-production, and research and development.”  In recent years New Delhi has stepped up buying U.S. weapons. But it has so far not co-developed or built any such weapon systems. 
Washington is yet to whole-heartedly support New Delhi’s proposed inclusion in the UN Security Council as a permanent member. It has been far from honoring its already declared resolve for India’s phased entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), the Wassenaar Arrangement and the Australia Group. Besides, New Delhi and Washington have divergent views on the issues related to climate change, world trade and agricultural subsidies.
A dominant speculation is that there will be hectic negotiations between New Delhi and Washington in the aforementioned areas in the days and weeks to come so that some major breakthroughs could be accomplished during the forthcoming Obama visit to India.
New Delhi may pay attention to two areas in particular. First, it has to see that civilian nuclear cooperation takes place on the ground as early as possible.  Given the nature of the growing Indian economy and its futuristic profile, New Delhi today needs nuclear power on a very large scale.   Prime Minister Modi is fully aware of it and has already urged the Atomic Energy Commission to triple the current production of 5,780 MW of nuclear power by 2023. This objective requires the installation of at least 40 light water power reactors of at least 1,000 MW capacity each.   
India has no alternative to nuclear energy right now . It does have one of the largest reservoirs of coal in the world but the mechanism of conversion into energy has long been in bad shape in the country. India is not inclined to the generation of hydro-power today. And solar and wind power also has a long way to go in India.
Presently, Washington takes strong objection to India’s Nuclear Liability law. Its argument is that this law places responsibility for a nuclear disaster not only on the operator but also on the supplier of equipment.  The Americans also fear that even a “third party” can drag the supplier to a court of law in India. American Assistant Secretary of State Nisha Biswal has already made it clear in an interview to an Indian newspaper that New Delhi “needs to come up with a solution that is workable for the companies to have a viable opportunity to work in India.” 
Second, New Delhi would have to see to it that Washington’s present cooperation with it on combating Islamist terrorism is more real than apparent. Prime Minister Modi sees no distinction between "good terrorism and bad terrorism." But Washington is yet the see the need to dismantle the various links Islamist terrorism has had all over the world. New Delhi would also like Washington not to continue overlooking the deeds of Pakistan’s notorious Inter Service Intelligence, for this agency has been the root cause of terror in India. 
The mood across the Indian strategic spectrum is upbeat over the forthcoming Obama visit. It does not seem to be devoid of substance. There are optimistic signs around.   Washington has of late realized that it cannot afford to gloss over the activities of  the Islamic State. It has intensified its much-awaited action against this Islamist outfit. Many Indians see it in the interest of India as well. Known by its Arabic acronym “Daish,” the IS shares an ideology in common with al- Qaida, Taliban and other Wahabist Islamist outfits and practices hatred and violence against whoever does not subscribe to its radical, militant theological version of Islam.  Daish   has been spreading its tentacles across the world and has recruited jihadists also in India. 
The United States (and the United Kingdom) have recently cooperated more intensely with India in combating the Islamist terror New Delhi has been confronted with. A  joint effort by the Computer Emergency Response Teams (CERT) from India, the US and the UK has helped India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) extract crucial online chats of key Indian Mujahideen (IM) members with the al-Qaida.  The United States, it is listed as a foreign terrorist organization .
Also, the US State Department has of late launched a counterintelligence investigation against former Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Robin Raphel. It must be very much to the glee of New Delhi. It may be recalled that during her time as political counselor in India she had described the state of Jammu and Kashmir as a “disputed territory,” and called for its resolution as per the wishes of the Kashmiris. Raphel promoted moderate Kashmiri separatists Yasin Malik and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq.  She managed their first visit to Pakistan and then to the US many times.   Raphel used her contacts to get their voice heard before the Congress and American think tanks.  
The deal between New Delhi and Washington last month on the issue of public stockholdings of food-grains for security is prone to save the multilateral Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA).  New Delhi had refused to sign it earlier, for a World Trade Organization rule caps subsidies to farmers at 10 percent of the total value of farm production.  India saw this stipulation as undermining its responsibility to feed its poor.   The deal provides for an indefinite peace clause until a permanent solution is found to the farm subsidy issue.
The author is a senior journalist based in New Delhi.