Something always seems to come in the way of India and the United States finding the groove in their relationship. Attempts by the two sides to inject some enthusiasm into bilateral ties despite the spat over the diplomat Devyani Khobragade and the U.S.’s past coldness toward Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the issue of the Gujarat riots, seem jinxed. The revelation that the U.S. National Security Agency had sought and received official permission to put the Bharatiya Janata Party under surveillance in 2010 is the latest hiccup. It overshadowed the visit by Republican Senator John McCain, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The disclosures were part of the latest cache of data released by whistle-blower Edward Snowden through The Washington Post. From what is available in the public domain so far, it is not clear what methods of surveillance were used, and which particular individuals in the party were being targeted. That this was four years before the BJP became the ruling party makes it curiouser. There is, however, nothing particularly surprising in the disclosure. Virtually every country spies on every other, and in the process spares no one of any importance. Espionage is among the oldest professions. Only, the methods have become more advanced and a country’s resources determine how advanced its technologies are. It is just that the U.S. gets outed more frequently than any other. Describing the surveillance as “unacceptable”, India summoned senior U.S. diplomats, apparently to tick them off. But New Delhi cannot in all honesty say that it does not spy on political parties in other countries, or even within. So the protest should not be mistaken for a moral stand that there should be no espionage.
What the revelations have done is to create further negativity about the U.S. in the Indian mind, thus making it politically difficult for the two governments to put the past behind them quickly. As it is, a cloud hangs over bilateral relations over the Khobragade episode. Though the Obama administration has made it clear that the Prime Minister would receive a red-carpet welcome in Washington in September, the cancellation of a visa to Mr. Modi when he was Chief Minister has not been forgotten. From all the outreach to India’s South Asian neighbours, and to China, Russia, France and Singapore, New Delhi also seems to be sending out the message that its foreign policy priorities are different from its predecessor’s. Assistant Secretary of State Nisha Biswal’s visit to make contact with the new government was upstaged by the high-profile arrival of the Chinese Foreign Minister. But good U.S.-India ties are in the “enlightened national interest” of both sides. A way must be found to break the ice before the September Washington summit.