Sunday, November 23, 2008



( These comments were sent by me in response to a query from a leading Washington DC-based think tank on Indian perceptions ofPresident-elect Barrack Obama)

There were initial concerns in India over the likely implications to India's national interests during an Obama Presidency. These concernsarose from the following factors:

(a). Obama's initial opposition in the Senate to the Indo-US civilian nuclear co-operation agreement, though he subsequently supported it.

(b). The reportedly active role played by Richard Holbroke and Madeleine Albright in advising him on foreign policy issues during the electioncampaign. Both were seen in India as advocates of a more intrusive role by the US in matters such as a settlement of the Kashmir issue andaddressing the Pakistani concerns over the increasing Indian presence in Afghanistan.

2. The fact that a large number of influential Americans of Indian origin had supported the Bush administration and that many ofthem---except Americans of Indian origin in Chicago--- had switched their support to Hillary Clinton during the primaries also influencedIndian perceptions of Obama.

3. These concerns are likely to be mitigated by reports that Obama is likely to nominate Hillary Clinton as his Secretary of State. She enjoysa positive image in the Indo-American community as well as in India. It is remembered that the Indo-American community played an activerole in her campaign to win the election to the Senate. They remained loyal to her during the entire primary campaign and switched theirsupport to Obama only after she had withdrawn from the race.

4. There were ups and downs in India's relations with the US during the presidency of Bill Clinton. During his first term he was viewed asinsensitive to India's interests and concerns. This perception got strengthened after his negative reaction to India's nuclear tests in 1998.The Kargil military conflict between India and Pakistan in 1999 saw a thawing of the cold vibrations, which had set in between India andthe US. What was seen as his support for India and his criticism of Pakistan for violating the Line of Control (LOC) in Jammu & Kashmir andthe active behind the scene role played by him in pressuring Pakistan to withdraw its troops from Indian territory in the Kargil areacontributed to a change in the Indian perceptions from negative to positive. This change was reflected in the extraordinarily warm welcomehe received during his visit to India in March 2000.

5. Despite this, the Clinton Administration, like other Democratic Administrations that preceded it, thought of India more tactically than strategically.-----more in terms of American business interests in catering to India's large middle class than in terms of the role which Indiacan and ought to play in the Asian---and ultimately global--- stage in the years to come.

6. It goes to the credit of President George Bush and his Secretary of State Condolleezza Rice that they started thinking of India morestrategically than tactically---- as an Asian power on par with China, as a power to be reckoned with and as a power with a tremendouspotential for playing a benign role on the world stage. The remarkable improvement in Indo-US relations under the inspiration of Bush andRice---- adequately reciprocated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh--- has been a turning point in Indo-US relations since India becameindependent in 1947.

7. Will Obama continue with the Bush-Rice policy of dealing with India strategically and strengthening their relationship or will he revert tothe traditional tactical Democratic reflex? This was the question that bothered many Indian opinion-makers as they heard with concernspeculation about the likelihood of Holbroke or Albright becoming the Secretary of State. There is a sigh of relief over reports of thelikelihood of Hillary Clinton taking over as the Secretary of State. She has enjoyed positive vibrations with influential Indians andIndo-Americans. There is a confidence that Indo-US relations will be safe in her hands.One has to wait and see whether this belief proves tobe correct or mere wishful-thinking.

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For TopicalStudies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: )

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