Sunday, August 31, 2014

Strong ties with Uncle Sam in India's interest

Ever since he became prime minister, there has been speculation about the relationship between Narendra Modi's government and the US. Modi's personal relationship with the US has not been happy. In 2005, not only was he denied a diplomatic visa to the US, but the normal B1/B2 visa issued to him earlier was also withdrawn under a 1998 US law which bars entry to foreigners who have committed "particularly severe violations of religious freedom". This was done at the behest of a number of US Congress members and NGOs who campaigned against him because of the issues arising from the massacre of Muslims in Gujarat following the Godhra killings.

But in the months leading up to his historic sweep of the Lok Sabha, Modi made several statements indicating that he would put national interest ahead of any supposed personal pique in relation to the US. In one interview he termed India and the US "natural allies", in a formulation that had been first made during the prime ministership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Modi also noted that it was Vajpayee who laid the foundation for a new era of partnership with the US, so "we will build upon that and take it forward".
Given his personality, no matter what he says, Modi is not likely to forget the slight of the US visa denial easily. But, no matter what he may feel or believe, it would be difficult for Modi to ignore the US. As of now, it remains the world's most formidable military and economic power - one that can harm us, if it chooses, but also help us, if it wants to.
Actually, Modi's personal issue is just one aspect of the poor relations between India and the US in the past couple of years. A lot of work needs to be done in Washington and New Delhi to undo the era of bad feelings.
The process seems to have begun in right earnest in a succession of American visits, beginning with that of influential Senator John McCain, followed by that of Deputy Secretary of State William Burns. There have been a number of other visits by lower-level delegations from the departments of defence and commerce, as well as a slew of think tanks. Now, Modi has accepted an invitation by US President Barack Obama for an official visit to Washington in September. Officials are emphasising that this is a special event and not a byproduct of his visit to New York to attend the UN General Assembly.
Like China did in the early 1980s, India needs to exploit the opportunity of good relations with the US to become a stronger economic and military power. Indeed, as a decisive leader, Modi could well transform the relationship with the US and enable it to reach its full potential. The Chinese are also aware of this and are wooing New Delhi frantically. But as long as the border dispute between the two countries remains unresolved, there is a limit to which Sino-Indian relations can grow.
Mail Today July 15, 2014

No comments: