Keeping up the tempo

The Indian-American community has played a big role in bringing the the US and India together in the recent years.

Obama of vegetables 370 (photo credit: Reuters)
Obama of vegetables 370
(photo credit: Reuters)
President Barack Obama’s victory in the November 6 US presidential elections has sure set hearts and tongues aflutter in many parts of the world, India being no exception. When Obama assumed office in January 2009, there were grave doubts in India as to whether he would follow in the footsteps of George W.
Bush, his predecessor, who had pushed Indo-US ties to the next level with the landmark Indo-US nuclear deal.
However, one of the first signs of Obama’s desire to continue the momentum in Indo-US ties came when Indian Prime Minister Dr.
Manmohan Singh became the first state guest of the Obama administration in November 2009. There has been no looking back ever since.
Obama paid a landmark visit to India in November 2010 where he openly backed India for a seat as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), something no other US president had been willing to offer, not even George W. Bush.
In July 2009, in another first, a “Strategic Dialogue” was initiated between India and the US during the visit of the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to India.
Obama also tightened the screws on Pakistan, much to the delight of India, which has been at the receiving end of terrorism emanating from Pakistani soil. During Obama’s tenure, India and the US have also collaborated in countries like Afghanistan, where India is a major donor, having already committed nearly $2 billion in reconstruction and development aid.
Another area which saw remarkable progress during Obama’s first term is US-India defense ties. India has placed orders worth over $8 billion for defense equipment from US manufacturers during the past decade, many of which came during Obama’s first term. The armed forces of the two countries have also held a series of joint exercises, something unimaginable during the Cold War-era.
Prime Minister Singh has also developed a close personal rapport with Obama, which will be very useful now that Obama has been re-elected. In fact, in his congratulatory message to Obama, Singh noted that “I have personally valued our friendship and I look forward to continuing our rewarding association in order to build further on the enduring foundations of our shared values and the accomplishments of the past four years.”
During the Obama presidency, India has also inched closer to US allies like Japan and Australia. For the first time in their history, India and Japan held bilateral naval exercises in June this year, while during her recent official visit last month to India, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced that Australia would be willing to consider supplying uranium to India (in a big turnaround in Australian foreign policy since India has not signed the NPT).
Growing Chinese aggressiveness has raised concerns in many countries, including in India, which has a long, unsettled border with China. Beijing is currently undergoing a process of political transition and New Delhi would benefit by having a known hand in Washington, DC.
BESIDES, WITH the opening up of countries like Myanmar, there are new opportunities for India and the US to work together. During his address to the Indian Parliament when he visited India in November 2010, Obama chided India for not doing enough to promote democracy in countries like Myanmar.
Obama’s victory also augurs well for the Indian-American community in the United States, who number almost 3 million and constitute the second largest Asian community in the United States.
The Indian-American community has played a big role in bringing the two countries together in the recent years.
However, there were some areas where India and the United States had differences of opinion during Obama’s first term. One was of course Iran, regarding which the Obama administration wanted India to take a stronger stand. India could not go “whole hog” as Iran is a major supplier of oil to India. However, India did reduce oil imports from Iran and has begun looking at other Gulf countries to meet the shortfall.
Another sore point was when American firms lost out in the $10 billion MMRCA (Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft) deal to supply aircraft to the Indian Air Force.
Obama’s electoral victory augurs well for India as it would require continued American backing if it were to get into the United Nations Security Council as a permanent member, and also in its quest for membership in bodies like the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group, Missile Technology Control Regime, Wassenaar Arrangement, etc.
One area where Obama’s re-election could work to the detriment of India is in the field of outsourcing, where the Obama campaign advocated a strong anti-outsourcing stance. However, Obama knows more than anyone else that if the faltering American economy is to be brought back into shape, it is important to cut costs in some sectors and this is where India could chip in.
India can look forward to increased cooperation with the United States under Obama’s leadership, but there will still be areas where the two countries will politely agree to disagree.The writer is an assistant professor of International Relations at the School of Liberal Studies, Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University, India. He has been a Visiting Fellow at the Centre for International Studies, the University of Cambridge, UK, and at the Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA), Tokyo. The views expressed are personal.