By K.N. Pandta
During past six decades Indo-US relations remained almost fossilized. We invited West’s apathy and hankered after Soviet empathy, sadly, for intangible gains and tangible losses. Our anti-US stance was misplaced and our pro-Soviet penchant was ill-conceived.
Chinese incursion of 1962 and India’s pitiable entreaty for American military hardware took the wind out of our non-alignment sails. The pompous founding father of ‘Indo-Chinese fraternity’ tantrum did not survive long to become witness to the collapsing air castles that India had built.
The country was made to play trishunka, the mythological celestial body neither on earth nor in the sky. While we were left to lick our Chinese war wounds, the US policy planners foresaw the inevitable role China was destined to play in world politics. Taking the time by forelock, Pakistan facilitated their connection. It was a slap on the face of non-alignment (read India), which met with cracks first with the passing away of Col Nasser, and then with the exit of Nehru. The last nail in its coffin was drawn when the Soviet Union collapsed and the Balkan issue, traditionally called ‘The Eastern Question’ resurged after more than a century of hibernation.
Indian leadership was almost out of wits to understand that the onslaught of rising Islamic terror in Kashmir in 1989 revealed that she was sitting on a keg of powder. Dismally shorn of any plan for internal security in the valley, her intelligence establishment proved it was rusted and corrupt beyond expectations. Mired in filthy politics of Kashmir, blind-folded Indian rulers knew not what to do with militant Kashmir. Their understanding of Kashmirirs is still marginal.
By some quirk of destiny, India found redemption – call it redemption if we may – in 9/11. Western world began reading a new chapter of world history. For India, the rise of Taliban-Al Qaeda combine came as shot in arms. Former US President Bush had to ask Pakistan on which side of the fence she stood. He did not need to put this question to Indian trishunkites.
Indian Left, usually towed to the bandwagon of Congress, failed to gauge the compulsions haunting the traditional political party. Implosion of the Soviet Union left both Congress and the Left orphaned. Mao’s China bridged the gap with capitalists. Global economic recession brought India to the brink, and then, almost from blue, appeared the dragon of international Theo-fascism spreading its fangs wide and deep. Reacting to the compulsions emanating from forceful Theo-fascist assault, Indian leadership found it unavoidable to consider reversal of six decade old policy. It had to take the risk of going through the testing fire of no-confidence vote in the parliament and beat off the leftist offensive when the final phase of signing civil nuclear agreement with the USA arrived. For the first time, Indian Left was shown its proper place. Washington did not fail to note the resilience of the Indian polity.
Ever since, the story of Indo-US relationship had to be looked at from brand new parameters. The US read much in India’s secular democracy as almost a unique variant of democratic political arrangement in the vast sub-continent of enormous divergences. No doubt, it was an unprecedented experiment. Yet the question remained whether it would survive stresses and strains of very complex internal politics.
Maoists and jihadis increased subversive designs against Indian state. This, and Indian domestic politics of last few years, increased Washington’s concerns. US policy makers stumbled on the option of forging strategic cooperation with New Delhi to counter jihadi onslaught. Semantics of this discourse had to be scrupulously discreet.
In the course of charting new relationship with India, Washington had to keep in mind two major dimensions. One was India’s geo-strategic relevance to the overall South and South East Asian political synergy, and hence the birth of US’ Asia-Pacific strategy. At its root lies the concept that the vast realm of water has recently been the object of elevated strategic interest since a “strategic pivot” toward Asia was announced by the current US administration, perhaps heralding the first signs of a shift toward a “Pacific-cantered world order”
The second dimension is of Indo-Pak relations in their overall complexity, but more particularly in the context of Afghan crisis. From Washington’s standpoint India’s non-combat involvement in Afghanistan and her Afghan connectivity embedded in historical content would be conducive to US’ peace initiative in the region. It is for policy planners in Islamabad to reconcile to this reality. India has to sit with Pakistan around the table and talk. In other words, talking to Pakistan means watching with curious concern the consequences of the gun battle raging fiercely between the pragmatists and conservatives in that country. In the process, Pak army is fighting its Frankenstein, albeit with murky intentions and elusive objectives.
The US premises the weakened power centre in New Delhi mainly owing to Congress’ style of acquisitive politics. In addition to Raisina Hills, Washington is trying to reach some positive State capitals in a bid to regulate its Indian constituency. Last year, Secretary of State, Hillary visited Tamilnadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha and presumably struck common chord with her. In May 2012, she landed at Kolkata, to understand the intrepid lady who shoved out the Leftist from their bastion in a hard fought election. Both of the two chief ministers do not see eye to eye with the parameters of Congress’ current policies. Hillary had discussed FDI in multi-brand retail with Mumta Banerjee before arriving in Delhi.
But more expressive is the reversal of UK’s and US’ posture on Narendra Modi for the first time after Godhara carnage. The British High Commissioner in New Delhi made no secret of his visit to Modi. The change in policy is essentially guided by spectacular development programme successfully brought to completion by Modi government in Gujarat. The US did not lag behind. Modi’s visits to China and Japan could have become the catalyst for changed western policy. In Modi, they have found a man who means doing business. This is what the western countries; the EU and the US have been looking for in India. Commentators call it a slap on the face of Congress, which has, amusingly, intensified attacks on Modi soon after new certification by the UK and US.
In final analysis, the future predicts the US and western countries trying to deal more and more with state capitals in bilateral deals on trade, commerce, tourism, technology and other areas rather than getting bogged with stereotyped processes of mired Indian bureaucracy. While India is rising in estimation of and importance to the US, the UPA II, and more particularly the Congress, is on a downward graph.