Waiting for Obama

Editorial: October
Hardnews Bureau Delhi

In a few weeks from now, US President Barack Obama would travel to New Delhi on a two-day state visit that has the potential to take the ties between the two countries to the next level. The US president would have to be mindful of the Indian government and its people's sensitivities. After all, it took 20 odd years of sustained engagement between the two countries to get over a phase of suspicion and mutual recrimination. 

There was a time when Indians could not reconcile to the threatening moves of the US's 7 Fleet in Bay of Bengal when India was fighting a war to liberate Bangladesh from Pakistan's control. It was this one move from Washington that gave legitimacy to the Indo-Soviet friendship treaty and scarred the mindset of nationalist Indians. It also reinforced the commonly held belief that "friendship with Pakistan is more valuable to the US than with India". 

For more than 40 years after India gained independence in 1947, the two democracies remained estranged. Jawaharlal Nehru's first visit to the US turned out to be a disaster, firming his resolve that the country had to stay 'non-aligned'. US Ambassador John Gunther Dean's testimony about American relations with India in the late 1980s show that there was great amount of bias and subjectivity built against New Delhi inside White House. 

Before the relationship warmed up, it hit a painful nadir when India exploded its nuclear bomb in 1998. Desperate wooing by BJP's then foreign minister Jaswant Singh of US official Strobe Talbott and the visit of Bill Clinton put the ties between the so-called 'natural allies' on track. The impetus to these ties also came from the rise of non-resident Indians and the burgeoning IT and software industry in the US. Emergence of BPOs and outsourcing by US companies to Bangalore and Hyderabad drew the countries closer. 

Melting away of the blocs and the rise of 'civilisational conflicts' brought the two countries on the same page. India's fight against cross-border terrorism began to find an audience after the 2001 WTC attack. Since then, there has been a paradigm shift in ties. George W Bush placed great importance to his country's ties with India. His Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice promised to make India a superpower. A claim that only got sniggers from detractors! 

India's profile has zoomed due to its new friend. Countries all over the world view New Delhi as a serious player. Even China, which had been comfortable pairing India with Pakistan, has woken up to the new reality. China knows what ties with US could do to the status of a country. China was transformed after Mao Zedong chose to shake hands with Richard Nixon after the Chinese forces came back with a bleeding nose after engaging with Soviet forces near River Ussuri. 

Barack Obama, who is trying to redefine America to revive its economy and poor infrastructure, would have to do solid work in Delhi. Besides showing solidarity with India's fight against terror, Obama would be expected to respond to the documents released by Wikileaks and other sources about Pakistan's involvement in terror. Obama is expected to request the Indian government to play a role in Afghanistan, when the US forces will draw the curtain down next year. Obama's visit would have major implications not only for the two countries, but for a troubled region that could see an end to the mindless arms race. That would be one enduring step towards hope and peace.

Hardnews also brings to its readers a refreshing, unimaginable slice of America. Beyond advanced capitalism's fetish of mindless wealth, success, materalism and militarism, small can still be beautiful. Is 'hated socialism' entering the final bastion of capitalism?

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: OCTOBER 2010