Thursday, November 11, 2010



India has had six Presidential visits from the US----those of Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George Bush and now Barack Obama.

Obama was accompanied by his wife Michelle. His predecessors, except Jimmy Carter, were not accompanied by their wives. Presumably because their wives were not interested in India. Or because, the Presidential aides thought it was not necessary

There have been instances of First Ladies visiting India on their own even though their husbands did not consider it necessary to make a Presidential visit to India. An example that comes to mind is that of Jaqueline Kennedy, who came with her sister.

There have also been instances of Presidential offspring coming to India----noticed or unnoticed. Example : Chelsea, daughter of Bill and Hillary Clinton.

There have been many instances of visiting Heads of State or Government from other countries being accompanied by their First Ladies.

The visit of Michelle stood apart from all other visits of First Ladies in the past.

This was not only because of her grace and natural charm. The other First Ladies were also gracious and charming.

The way Michelle won the heart of India, no other First Lady had won in the past.

The other First Ladies restricted themselves to mingling with India's social elite--- ex-maharajas, ex-maharanis, Bollywood actors, fashion-designers etc.

Jacqueline Kennedy was mostly in the company of the ex-Maharani of Jaipur and other ex-princes of Rajasthan.

Michelle was the first First Lady to have mingled with the Aam Admi---the common man. And woman.

She did mingle with the political and social elite at the two formal banquets hosted for her husband.

The rest of the time----whether in Mumbai or in Delhi--- she was mostly in the company of the ordinary people of India---children and adults.

A totally captivated country watched her chatting, joking, singing and dancing with India's Aam Admi. Very naturally.

Those were not put up or orchestrated shows for the photo. What one saw was her natural joy and exuberance in the company of ordinary people.

She won hundreds of thousands of new friends for the US----in the old as well as the new generation.

Her contribution to the success of the President's visit was immense.

Whereas her husband was the toast of the Indian elite, she became the toast of the Aam Admi.

Whoever thought of enabling her to mingle freely with the Aam Admi instead of keeping her confined to the company of the social elite has to be a genius.

It is a pity the President and Michelle came to India after the mid-term elections to the US Congress were over.

If they had come during the election campaign, the people-friendly images of Michelle beamed to the US might have won some extra seats for the Democrats in the elections. (12-11-10)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: )



President Barack Obama's support for India's permanent membership of the UN Security Council (UNSC) was not direct and unconditional. It was indirect and conditional on an agreement being reached in the UN General Assembly on a reformed UNSC that will include India as a permanent member. This is the meaning of what he said in his address to the Parliament on November 8,2010. He said: " As two global leaders, the United States and India can partner for global security —- especially as India serves on the Security Council over the next two years. Indeed, the just and sustainable international order that America seeks includes a United Nations that is efficient, effective, credible and legitimate. That is why I can say today, in the years ahead, I look forward to a reformed United Nations Security Council that includes India as a permanent member."

2. A reformed UNSC with India as a permanent member is a long way off. China is not prepared to support a reformed UNSC which includes Japan as a permanent member. The US is unlikely to support any reforms which exclude Japan. The Islamic world, at the prompting of Pakistan, has been canvasing for a reformed UNSC which would include at least one Islamic nation as a permanent member----either Indonesia or Saudi Arabia. If this idea is accepted and the US prevails in having Japan included, there will be two new members from Asia and there will be no place for a third new permanent member. India would be automatically excluded. China has been firm that the new permanent members should not have the right of veto---- a condition which would not be acceptable to India.It is going to take years before these issues are sorted out. Public and media euphoria in India over the statement of Obama was, therefore, not called for.

3. In the context of India's aspiration to become a permanent member of the UNSC, Obama made critical references to India's support to the military regime in Myanmar in a language which was unwarranted and injected a jarring note in an otherwise cordial and friendly visit.He said: "Now, let me suggest that with increased power comes increased responsibility. The United Nations exists to fulfill its founding ideals of preserving peace and security, promoting global cooperation, and advancing human rights. These are the responsibilities of all nations, but especially those that seek to lead in the 21st century. And so we look forward to working with India —- and other nations that aspire to Security Council membership -— to ensure that the Security Council is effective; that resolutions are implemented, that sanctions are enforced; that we strengthen the international norms which recognize the rights and responsibilities of all nations and all individuals. This includes our responsibility to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.....Now, we all understand every country will follow its own path. No one nation has a monopoly on wisdom, and no nation should ever try to impose its values on another. But when peaceful democratic movements are suppressed —- as they have been in Burma, for example -- then the democracies of the world cannot remain silent. For it is unacceptable to gun down peaceful protestors and incarcerate political prisoners decade after decade. It is unacceptable to hold the aspirations of an entire people hostage to the greed and paranoia of bankrupt regimes. It is unacceptable to steal elections, as the regime in Burma has done again for all the world to see. Faced with such gross violations of human rights, it is the responsibility of the international community —- especially leaders like the United States and India —- to condemn it. And if I can be frank, in international fora, India has often shied away from some of these issues. But speaking up for those who cannot do so for themselves is not interfering in the affairs of other countries. It’s not violating the rights of sovereign nations. It is staying true to our democratic principles. It is giving meaning to the human rights that we say are universal. And it sustains the progress that in Asia and around the world has helped turn dictatorships into democracies and ultimately increased our security in the world."

4. It would have been impolite and inappropriate for our leaders to have replied to Obama immediately after his speech. He was our honoured guest. Now that his visit is over and he has left the country, it is important for our Prime Minister to point out that Obama at his Town Hall meeting at Mumbai on November 7 had sought to justify the US reluctance to condemn Pakistan on the terrorism issue on the ground that Pakistan is strategically important to the US. Washington DC has been silent on the suppression of the rights of the Balochs, the Sindhis, the Mohajirs,the Pashtuns and the people of Gilgit-Baltistan by successive regimes in Pakistan. It has kept quiet on the frequent massacre of the Shias by the Sunni extremists and the failure of the Government to protect them. It has not taken any action for stopping the use of terrorism by the State of Pakistan and for the interrogation of A.Q.Khan, the nuclear scientist, on his clandestine proliferation of military nuclear technology and equipment to North Korea, Iran and Libya.After 9/11, the US, which was dependent on Pakistan for its war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, kept quiet on the suppression of democracy by Gen.Pervez Musharraf. In spite of all the transgressions of the military regime and its successor, it has been pouring money into Pakistan by way of economic and military assistance. For nearly three decades, the US closed its eyes to the suppression of the human rights of the Indonesian people by the Suharto-led military regime.Obama's remarks on India's relations with Myanmar were totally unjustified. Myanmar is strategically as important to India as Pakistan is to the US. (11-11-10)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: )



On his way to China in November,2009, President Barack Obama had made his first halt in Japan to underline the importance attached by him to the USA’s relations with Japan, with which it has a security relationship. There were detailed references to China in his speeches and comments in Tokyo. In one of his speeches, he said: "The United States does not seek to contain China, nor does a deeper relationship with China mean a weakening of our bilateral alliances. On the contrary, the rise of a strong, prosperous China can be a source of strength for the community of nations. And so in Beijing and beyond, we will work to deepen our Strategic and Economic Dialogue, and improve communication between our militaries. We will not agree on every issue, and the United States will never waver in speaking up for the fundamental values that we hold dear – and that includes respect for the religion and cultures of all people. Because support for human rights and human dignity is ingrained in America. But we can move these discussions forward in a spirit of partnership rather than rancor."

2. After his visit to India from November 6 to 8,2010, he proceeded to Indonesia. There were detailed references to China in his remarks at Jakarta. Addressing the media after his arrival in Jakarta from New Delhi on November 9, he reportedly said that the US will not seek to contain China. He added: "We want China to succeed and prosper. China's continuous development is good for the US.” He also said that the US regards China as "a huge, expanding market, where Americans can sell goods and services", and treats China's prosperity and security as "a positive".

3. As compared to his readiness to speak openly and in detail about China at Tokyo last year and at Jakarta now, he was economical in his references to China during his stay in India. However, in his address to the Indian Parliament on November 8, he spoke of his policy of deepening co-operation with India and China in two different contexts. He spoke of his policy of comprehensive engagement with the world based on mutual interest and mutual respect. He then added: “And a central pillar of this engagement is forging deeper cooperation with 21st century centers of influence -— and that must necessarily include India.”

4. Subsequently, he referred to the US again playing a leadership role in Asia and, in this context, he said: “More broadly, India and the United States can partner in Asia. Today, the United States is once again playing a leadership role in Asia —- strengthening old alliances; deepening relationships, as we are doing with China; and we’re reengaging with regional organizations like ASEAN and joining the East Asia summit —- organizations in which India is also a partner. Like your neighbors in Southeast Asia, we want India not only to “look East,” we want India to “engage East” —- because it will increase the security and prosperity of all our nations.”

5. After his visit to China in November,2009, there were concerns in India that he was giving greater priority to the USA’s relations with China. There were also concerns over the following formulation in the Joint Statement issued by him and President Hu Jintao: “The two sides welcomed all efforts conducive to peace, stability and development in South Asia. They support the efforts of Afghanistan and Pakistan to fight terrorism, maintain domestic stability and achieve sustainable economic and social development, and support the improvement and growth of relations between India and Pakistan. The two sides are ready to strengthen communication, dialogue and cooperation on issues related to South Asia and work together to promote peace, stability and development in that region.”

6.In the weeks preceding Obama’s visit to India, there was an attempt by the Obama Administration to remove the impression in the Indian mind that his administration was giving greater priority to China and was encouraging a strategic role for China in South Asia in the context of Afghanistan and Indo-Pakistani relations. The US policy was clarified by Mrs.Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State, in a speech at the East-West Centre at Honolulu on October 28. She said: "The relationship between China and the United States is complex and of enormous consequence but we are committed to getting it right. There are some in both countries who believe that China's interests and ours are fundamentally at odds. They apply a zero-sum calculation to our relationship, so whenever one of us succeeds, the other must fail. But that is not our view. In the 21st century, it is not in anyone's interest for the United States and China to see each other as adversaries. In a crowded field of highly dynamic, increasingly influential emerging nations, two stand out: India and China. Their simultaneous rise is reshaping the world and our ability to cooperate effectively with these countries will be a critical test of our leadership."

7. The policy of co-operating effectively with both India and China was also underlined by Obama’s White House aides in their interactions with the media before his visit. This policy of equality of strategic relationship with both India and China without favouring one to the detriment of the other is reflected in the references to India’s engagement with the East in Obama’s address to the Indian Parliament and in the following formulation in the Joint Statement issued by him and Manmohan Singh: “The two leaders have a shared vision for peace, stability and prosperity in Asia, the Indian Ocean region and the Pacific region and committed to work together, and with others in the region, for the evolution of an open, balanced and inclusive architecture in the region. In this context, the leaders reaffirmed their support for the East Asia Summit and committed to regular consultations in this regard. The United States welcomes, in particular, India's leadership in expanding prosperity and security across the region. The two leaders agreed to deepen existing regular strategic consultations on developments in East Asia, and decided to expand and intensify their strategic consultations to cover regional and global issues of mutual interest, including Central and West Asia. In an increasingly inter-dependent world, the stability of, and access to, the air, sea, space, and cyberspace domains is vital for the security and economic prosperity of nations. Acknowledging their commitment to openness and responsible international conduct, and on the basis of their shared values, India and the United States have launched a dialogue to explore ways to work together, as well as with other countries, to develop a shared vision for these critical domains to promote peace, security and development. The leaders reaffirmed the importance of maritime security, unimpeded commerce, and freedom of navigation, in accordance with relevant universally agreed principles of international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and peaceful settlement of maritime disputes.”

8. Thus according to him, just as China has a useful role to play in South Asia as stated in his Joint Statement with Hu, India has a useful role to play in South-East and East Asia. It is evident that the US will not like to get involved in matters relating to the Sino-Indian border dispute. Recent remarks by Mrs. Clinton and other US officials have indicated that the US will not be averse to playing a role in the search for a mutually satisfactory solution to the maritime disputes involving China with Japan in the East China Sea and with some ASEAN countries in the South China Sea. But, it does not envisage a role for itself in the territorial disputes between India and China. This suits India too which prefers sorting out bilateral issues----whether with Pakistan or China--- at the bilateral level without the involvement of third parties.

9. What India would want is that just as it would prefer the US continuing its effective presence in Afghanistan to act as a check on Pakistan, it would prefer the US continuing its effective presence in South-East and East Asia to act as a check on China without itself getting involved in any relationship with the US which might be interpreted by Beijing as directed against it.

10. What does Obama mean by saying that India and the US can partner in Asia? What will be the objectives of such partnership? How would India react to the proposal? Answers to these questions are not available. As part of the policy of re-asserting the US leadership in Asia, there has recently been a surge in US diplomatic activity in South-East and East Asia and Australia. Mrs.Clinton and Robert Gates, the Defence Secretary, had visited separately a number of countries in the region. They had also visited jointly South Korea and Australia.

11. From their statements and comments and from those of Obama, it would appear that what Obama probably has in mind is not the revival of the idea of his predecessor George Bush of a four-cornered strategic relationship involving the US, India, Japan and Australia, but parallel strategic partnerships of the US with each of these countries in order to strengthen peace and security in the region without giving it the shape of an alliance. Where would the USA’s relations with China----which Obama wants to deepen simultaneously--- fall in this parallel arrangement? It is not clear. Obama’s new Asian policy is still taking shape and not much thought seems to have been given by his advisers to the various implications of it.

12. This may please be read in continuation of my following articles:


(b). The Return of the US to Asia: Core Interests Vs Mutual Interests of November 3,2010, at ( 11-11-10) ---To be continued

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: )