India will have to take a realistic view of the scope of its strategic partnership with the United States of America, writes Kanwal Sibal
India’s relations with the United States of America need to be put back on track. The relationship has lost steam in the recent months with many contentious issues surfacing that remain unaddressed. We have now to see whether, with the change of government in Delhi, a new start can be made.
The challenges ahead will not be easy to overcome. The irritants marking the relationship arose when a ‘pro-US’ prime minister, Manmohan Singh, was in power. His government was grappling with problems of development and growth, and sought US participation in building a strong Indian economy. Indeed, the strategic dialogue, with its five pillars — strategic cooperation, energy and climate change, education and development, economy, trade and agriculture, science and technology, health and innovation — was instituted in 2009, under his watch. If, despite four previous rounds, the relationship became somewhat morose, no breakthroughs can be expected from the fifth one.
To begin with, the US must make an extra effort to establish a relationship of confidence with the new prime minister, whom the Americans have treated very shabbily with an obstinacy that makes little political sense. President Barack Obama seemingly established a good personal chemistry with Manmohan Singh; it is unlikely that this will be easily repeated with Narendra Modi, although the US president has reached out to him immediately after his election and welcomed him to Washington, as did the secretary of state, John Kerry. Modi himself has been remarkably large-hearted towards the US, conveying through his decision to visit Washington quickly that he intends to overlook the visa-denial insult and move forward to establish a mutually productive relationship in India’s national interest. It is indisputable that a perception of some malaise developing in the India-US relationship complicates the management of a balance in our foreign policy.
To the extent that these diplomatic signals are watched when a new government takes over in a country headed by a prime minister, whose thinking on foreign policy issues is not known, it would have been noted that the first foreign visit by Modi announced by the government was to the US. As against this, Modi has reached out exceptionally towards China by allowing the Chinese to stage a diplomatic coup of sorts, especially vis-à-visJapan, in having their foreign minister received as the first foreign envoy by him, holding an unusually long conversation over the telephone with his Chinese counterpart and following it with a “very fruitful” meeting with the Chinese president in Brazil, who was invited to visit India in September, programming the Indian army chief’s visit to China, and that of the vice-president to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Panchsheel Agreement along with the Myanmarese president. This boosts China’s “peaceful” credentials and indirectly signals reduced concern about China’s thrust into Myanmar.