Obama’s India Visit: Acknowledging India’s Rise

Wed, Dec 8, 2010

Social Issues

When Barack Hussein Obama was elected as President of the most powerful nation on planet Earth, he was hailed as the face of change that American Citizens and the world were seeking. The first state guest for this charismatic professor turned politician was none other than our own Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh. This was hint enough that the Democratic leadership of US seeks to strengthen its ties with India, a nation growing at a modest pace when a major chunk of World states were struggling to break free from the recession.

The subsequent visit by Obama and his statements when in India, reaffirmed what we always wanted to believe in: that the two largest democracies of the World are partners in mutual growth. The four day trip, like similar high profile meets was preceded by a lot of speculation of which little materialized. Obama seemed to make it clear to India and to the world at large that Indo-US relations were heading more towards a give-and-take relationship, rather than the previously imagined one, where the US gives and India takes. He was not here to offer Diwali gifts to a nation which is home to 17.31% of the World’s population: Instead, he was here to create job opportunities for his folks back home. The message was clear: The United States of America needs a friend in India.

The visit began at the historic Hotel Taj, Mumbai where he met survivors of the 26/11 attack. This was considered by many a move in the direction of building a people-to-people relationship with the country rather than a simple military alliance or a practical business relationship. However, he did not speak of the war against terror and its perpetuators, which irked quite a few political analysts. Obama chose to visit Humayun’s tomb and not the Taj Mahal, and interacted with students and industry leaders. All of this indicates that he was visiting the country and its people, not just the leader. The trip highlighted India’s importance in many ways. Considering his attempt to seek access to Indian markets and jobs in India, he tried to prepare a level playing field in exchange of American firms outsourcing their projects to India. After all, outsourcing happens due to economic factors, as manpower comes cheap in this part of the world.

The Indian government described the visit as a ‘milestone’ in Indo US relations. This one statement from the External Affairs Minister SM Krishna highlights the importance of the outcome(s) of this visit which include the lifting of export curbs on dual use technologies. Also, with ISRO and DRDO now removed from the Entity List of the United State Bureau of Industry and Security, the President has in a way accepted India’s nuclear competitiveness, and the voluntary declaration of non-proliferation. India has been seeking acceptance on both these counts for quite a while now. The States have in return urged India to unite with its policies on Iran, a position diametric to India’s near friendly relations with the country in question.

While the US President was in India, the majority of the House of Representatives back home shifted from the Democrats to the Republics. However, as the President has little authority with respect to foreign affairs, this change is not expected to impart significant effect to the Foreign Affairs policy of the Obama administration, which has been unique to say the very least. The first year of Obama’s rein was a honeymoon with China, slightly annoying the  India, Japan and the Philippines. No doubt he is making amends this year. Obama has also signed an aircraft deal which could create as many as 27,000 jobs back home. Though Defense deals are never inked on Presidential visits, Obama wanted to address his people who are clearly disappointed with a slower pace of change than was expected. Obama’s domestic policies have been seen to be averse to corporate America, a view which he is attempting to change by indicating business worth US$ 10 billion when he met industry stalwarts in Mumbai. In any case, Republicans have traditionally been more beneficial to India’s cause than the Democrats and their victory can only strengthen Indo-US ties. However, this loss could translate into a stiff tussle while passing bills concerning domestic changes.

To conclude, India and US are headed towards a strong alliance. Alliances can be geopolitical or geo-economic where one country needs another: like the relation between the States and Saudi Arabia, or they can be Society to Society relationships like the one between US and Great Britain. India’s relation with US qualifies as a People to People relationship. This visit took both countries a few notches closer towards establishing relationship connect, and Mr. Obama finally acknowledged that the time for India has arrived.

Atul Mishra

MBA Batch of 2012

IIT Kanpur

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