Opinion » Lead

Updated: September 25, 2013 01:03 IST

Nothing to write home about

Manoj Joshi
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The Manmohan-Obama meeting at the U.N. General Assembly session is unlikely to be significant thanks to the stasis that has marked India-U.S. relations since 2008

There was a time when the United States was riding so high that the White House looked down on foreign heads of state using their presence in the annual United Nations General Assembly session to seek an audience with the leader of the free world. With its diminished status in today’s multi-polar world, it is Washington that finds it expedient to use the event for some old-fashioned diplomacy. On the list for this year’s summits, or “working visits,” are Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. They could all be upstaged by a possible summit between Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

Dealing with Israel

For Mr. Abbas and Mr. Netanyahu, the context is domestic politics. Anything to do with Israel is local politics, as far as the U.S. is concerned. And the real problem with Israel is the intractable issue of Palestine. Having put his foot in it by clearly defining the emerging Palestinian state, Mr. Obama is now in a bind because of Israel’s customary intransigence. The meeting with the Nigerian is a patch-up effort aimed at soothing sentiments of black Africa’s most populous nation, which was left out of Mr. Obama’s itinerary in his June tour of Africa.

An Obama-Rouhani meeting though could put everything in the shade, even the UNGA. The estrangement between Iran and the U.S. has poisoned international politics for the past three decades. In the past year or so, they seem to be headed for an even more serious clash over Iran’s nuclear programme and the tightening of American sanctions. So any development toward resolving that situation would be good news, especially for countries such as India which have important geopolitical stakes in good relations with Teheran.

Where does the Manmohan-Obama summit fit in all this?

The relationship between India and the U.S. has been described in many ways: estranged democracies; natural allies; strategic partners; the defining partnership of the twentieth century; and so on. Today, if anything, there is one word to describe them, “dysfunctional,” which they both are, as putative allies and democracies. It is this reality upon which their efforts to put the mojo back in their relationship is foundering.

The real explanation for the stasis that has gripped India-U.S. relations since 2008 is largely economic, but there are also domestic causes on both sides. In June, leading U.S. business groups wrote to President Obama protesting what they called “unacceptable” Indian practices targeting U.S. business interests in India. Later that month, as many as 40 U.S. Senators signed on to a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry repeating the complaints.

Then, there are the political trends in the U.S. that make it seem increasingly inward looking and divided. The obsession of the Republican Party in undoing the healthcare law promoted by President Obama is a case in point. There are a hundred and one problems confronting the U.S. — degrading infrastructure, mounting deficits, a widening rich-poor divide, a deepening social divide between conservatives and liberals — but all that the U.S. Congress is obsessed with is undermining the Obama presidency. It is difficult not to believe there is an element of racism in it considering the efforts being made by Republican politicians to marginalise black voters.

The U.S. is uniquely gifted in its geographical location and natural resources, and upon these advantages it has constructed the richest and most powerful nation on earth. But it seems determined to expend its natural capital at a furious rate. Battered in Iraq, not quite rid of its military commitments in Afghanistan, it nearly stumbled into another one in Syria a month ago.

The lost decade

As for India, it now seems certain that we are in the midst of our lost decade. The Indian economy is sagging and the complaints of Indian businessmen against the Byzantine ways of New Delhi echo those of their American counterparts. No matter who wins or loses the coming election, in 2020 India will not be the global player it was hoping to be. Indeed, it will be lucky just to put the Indian growth story back on the rails by then. While the world economic crisis is one cause, poor political management and poorer policy choices are also responsible.

Even so, Washington and New Delhi believe, the show must go on. There have been several speeches and statements on the eve of the Prime Minister’s visit to Washington — U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter spoke in New Delhi of the importance of the Defense Trade and Technology Initiative aimed at upping India’s defence capabilities. In his remarks to the Aspen Institute India last week, National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon emphasised the durability of the ties that have developed in the last decade.

But it was a somewhat lowly official — a Deputy Press Secretary — Josh Earnest, who drew the bottom line. Briefing journalists on Air Force One last week, he said Prime Minister Singh’s visit would “highlight India’s role in regional security and stability, and provide an opportunity for the two leaders to chart a course towards enhanced trade, investment, and development cooperation between the U.S. and India.”

Parsing his words — India is increasingly important to U.S. calculations of stability in Afghanistan and South-east Asia. All other issues — increased trade, investment, development cooperation — are aimed at raising India’s capacity to meet these challenges. This is not the first time that India is playing this role. In the 1950s and 1960s, the U.S. played a significant role in propping up India as a model democratic developing country. In geopolitical terms, it would seem that India and the United States are destined to be “natural allies,” though always in the future rather than the present.

Today, the U.S. is aware that India is unlikely to become its ally in the way that Japan, Australia or Britain and Germany are. But it is conscious of the fact that enhanced Indian economic and military capacities are to the benefit of the U.S. and its allies which are aimed at “balancing” China. That is because recent history and geography pit India against China. It is not just a matter of the disputed border, though this is not an unimportant issue. It is also China’s geopolitical compulsions to “build capacity” in the same manner in smaller South Asian countries, much to the discomfiture of New Delhi, which lacks the resources to take on Beijing. Unwittingly, though not entirely unwillingly, India is playing a role in American geopolitical calculations in Asia. In other words, there is a convergence of interests though New Delhi shies away from exploring where that leads.

At the end of the day, U.S.-India ties will rest on a community of shared interests, rather than shared values. That is where they will get their principal sustenance, but that is where we could find the biggest problems when their interests diverge, say, in the matter of the U.S. pivot to Pakistan as a prelude to its withdrawal from Afghanistan or in the matter of Iran.

In this larger scheme of things, Prime Minister Singh’s visit, his sixth bilateral summit with the U.S. leader in nine years in office, will not be of great significance because the circumstances of what go into a successful summit do not exist. That has to do with the paralysis of governance in New Delhi, but equally the distemper that afflicts Washington.

(The writer is a Distinguished Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi)

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The author has brought in the compulsions and constraints that force India and US to feign
alliance more by way of shared interests than shared values. It is not so much that China
has better resources than India that it is increasingly influencing not only the Asian region but
also beyond, it is that India is less organized and less unified as a Nation, democracy
notwithstanding. The multiparty concept is ruining the country increasingly influenced by
coalition compulsions to compromise. The Nation is split up by mushrooming regional Parties
and their opportunistic politics of shared interests of personal gains than shared values of
Nation building. With no chance of a single party majority coming to power, time to introspect
to bring in reforms to have a two party democracy at the Centre with regional parties/
Independents aligning with one of the two irrevocably, at least for the five year term to forbid
blackmailing and horse-trading.

from:  M.R.Sampath
Posted on: Sep 27, 2013 at 10:22 IST

In the realm of US-Iran tension,india should adopt a cooperative
competitive pragmatic approach.The world is about GIVE&TAKE,so
indo-us relation should be seen in this light.Indian geo-
political advantage has been used by US since 1950s to tackle and china's challenge.But,India is also getting benefits
in real terms like education,employment,capacity building in
economy and militarily.
Now,india should maintain a pragmatic approach by maintaining
cooperative relationship with US via significant indian
diaspora.Alongwith,india should cooperate with china on the
diversification of economy but competiting in existing sectors
for expansion.Sino-indian armaments should be collaborated on the
basis of mutual respect and deterrence on the line of OSCE
countries.Indian relation with iran should be improved on
humanitarian grounds like capacity building etc.
So,the indian stand should be more optimistic and expedient
rather than confining into conservative stagnant values.

from:  bishal
Posted on: Sep 26, 2013 at 00:47 IST

Indian politician cannot think outside VOTEBANK & SWISSBANK!! Middle class, businessmen & entrepreneurs should not waste time with this uncaring govt. We should become truly global & expand our roots. Invest anywhere else except India as here govt will use your tax money to finish you off economically just to expand its VOTEBANK & SWISSBANK balance.

from:  Shaleen Mathur
Posted on: Sep 25, 2013 at 13:30 IST

India's maintenance as staunch ally of USA denying her own value
perspective lowered her economic growth in respond to today's world
economic feature. To ameliorate policies and to dodge from foundering
she needs to necessarily open her option for future interest by
charting out which countries are more favorable as allies to most of
the countries which have realized already. The facts of snooping
underestimates sovereignty and yet India remains dormant and afraid.
Indo-China relationship may be uplifted in true spirit through high
diplomacy keeping alive USA relationship. Considering the gamut of
India's political application with the outside world seems to
deteriorate because of intransigent view towards her neighbors but
sticking to only USA's ostensible magic wand. Change in India's
international policies and strategies is the need of the time.

from:  Sanjay basumatary
Posted on: Sep 25, 2013 at 09:23 IST

Mr. Joshi is right in many of his observations, particularly that it is the shared interests that bring nations together. But in a global world, there are more common interests than ever. India is yet to work with the large community of influential persons of Indian origin who live in the US to build and promote mutual ties to common advantages. Look at what Israelis have achieved. Yes, a richer, better performing India will suit some foreign nations, like the US, but above all that is and should be of greatest interest to all Indians regardless of how others may or may not perceive it. We should be thankful to the countries that wish us well.

from:  Virendra Gupta
Posted on: Sep 25, 2013 at 06:24 IST

We look up towards US but America looks down on us because our leaders
approach is always incomprehensible, inconsistent and insincere. Why
Indian youth prefer to go to US for higher studies/ employment and not
to China Russia, Brazil, Germany, France or Afghanistan? is a moot
point indeed! We talk big on reforms but how can a highly conservative
society be a great reformist at the fall of a hat? It may take a few
thousand years before we reform. US priority is its relations with
Iran followed by middle east discourse, Af-Pak affairs and last
priority being Indian affairs. World Leaders US and UK tolerate Indian
stupidity only because we are an important to them as a member of
their English speaking club. It is in India's interest (and not on
America's) to have pragmatic dialogue with US to sort out its basic
problems of TRASH-FREE India, potable water,Creating Energy surplus
power base and modern infrastructure apparatus besides Research work.

from:  Vyas K Susarla
Posted on: Sep 25, 2013 at 02:49 IST

As the op-ed pointed out 'As for India, it now seems certain that we
are in the midst of our lost decade. The Indian economy is sagging and
the complaints of Indian businessmen against the Byzantine ways of New
Delhi echo those of their American counterparts. No matter who wins or
loses the coming election, in 2020 India will not be the global player
it was hoping to be. Indeed, it will be lucky just to put the Indian
growth story back on the rails by then. While the world economic
crisis is one cause, poor political management and poorer policy
choices are also responsible.' this is extremely disheartening and
tragedy for the young generation. As Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi
goes about asking to get re-elected to run the country in 2014
election, I have one question for them, on the basis of what record
they ask to be re-elected, so that they can continue with their
mismanagement and ineffectual leadership and in the process bring
further ruin to the country?

from:  Suvojit Dutta
Posted on: Sep 25, 2013 at 01:24 IST
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