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March 13, 2011

Page: 23/36

Home > 2011 Issues > March 13, 2011

A remarkable study on growing Indo-US bonhomie
By MV Kamath

India and the United States in the 21st Century: Re-inventing Partnership, Teresita C Schaffer, India Research Press, Pp 254 (PB), $ 22.95

NO two countries which have so many things in common and have every reason to have friendly relations with each other have been at loggerheads for a period longer than one would normally expect, than India and the United States. They are the two largest democracies in the world. If English is the national language of the multi-ethnic United States, the same is spoken or understood by more Indians than Americans, leave alone Britain.

The United States never had a colonial mindset, nor has India. Both the US and India had to free themselves from British rule. In pre-Independence years the United States knew little about India and India knew even less about its co-democracy across the seas. Shockingly, after the second world war, at first under the tutelage of a vengeful Britain, but subsequently for its own political reasons the United States adopted an unfriendliness leaving India greatly perplexed. The people of both countries had nothing to complain about each other.

In the years following Independence, the number of Indian students aspiring for higher studies invariably chose the United States - and not so much Britain-as their ultimate destination and a good majority even chose to seek the US citizenship. But at the political level - during the entire Cold War period - there was hardly any meeting ground between the two nations which should have been ‘natural allies’ as Atal Behari Vajpayee once noted. Sadly they turned out to be unwilling and unnatural antagonists. The end of the Cold War changed the situation for the better. But by then, for purely strategic reasons, the United States felt it necessary to continue its ‘tilt’ towards India’s sworn ‘enemy’, Pakistan, Delhi’s constant protests notwithstanding. But is this going to last? This is where Teresita Schaffer’s work assumes massive significance. India, a proud country, has woken up from its long slumber and is catching up with the so-called Great Powers and no one can stop it. It has its own concept of its role in a changing world and is not going to be bullied into submission by the ‘white’ nations on any issue, whether in regard to non-proliferation of nuclear arms, relations with Russia or, say, terrorism.

What is significant - and this is the core of this remarkable study - is that for once the United States seems to have come to understand India’s hopes and fears and its reluctance to automatically concede to any US demands and policy concerns.

Schaffer has undoubtedly made a deep study of India’s economic growth and its administrative ethos and has no hesitation in criticising it when she thinks it is called for. Thus she says that one of the hardest problems foreign investors have to tackle because "it is so diffuse" is "the sheer complexity of doing business in India". The World Bank’s Survey of doing business abroad ranked India 116th out of 122 countries surveyed, not a very complimentary discovery.

Also, she notes, India "wants the political status that comes from being taken seriously by the United States." Schaffer’s analysis of Indian relations with many countries, especially Russia shows deep understanding of the Indian mindset. She assesses this latter with a great deal of objectivity. As she sees it, "Apart from military supply, the Indo-Russia relationship appears to offer more hope than substance" though she quickly adds that the "hope is not insignificant, especially when one considers the importance Indians attach to strategic autonomy and the impact of Russia’s more fractious relationship with the United States".

She sums all this well when she says: "India and Russia are likely to use each other as counterweights to a ‘unipolar’ US posture in the world, adding, however, that "the growing multipolar choreography has not yet required any strategic choices on India’s part and it has posed no threat to US-India cooperation".

In many ways this is a remarkable study that sees things as they are and not as the United States thinks they should. It is a far cry from the days when a former Secretary of States John Foster Dulles could say that non-alignment is ‘immoral’. Schaffer is optimistic-as she should be-when she says "the chance of creating a selective but growing agenda of issues on which the US and India can cooperate with reasonable comfort are good... Common interests will push the United States and India together. Linkages outside the government-business, science, education and mobile population-and democratic politicians who understand what it means to face a feisty electorate can help this sometimes prickly partnership find its sweet spot!"

To which all one can say is, Amen!

(India Research Press, 114, Jor Bagh, Ist floor, New Delhi-110 003)

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