It takes the visit of none less than the American President himself to turn the America's and hence the world's attention to India! American newspapers over the week have reported on India's new-found economic growth and Newsweek even did an India special. And finally India made on the front pages of major newspapers without detonating a nuclear weapon or a natural calamity striking it killing millions.
American Presidents have seldom come to India and Mr. Bush is only the fifth one to do so. Eisenhower was the first in 1959. He received a hero's welcome by millions on the roads of Delhi, and his administration made economic aid to India a foreign policy priority. However by 1969 Indo-US relations reached their nadir and although Richard Nixon received a lukewarm welcome, his foreign policy favored Pakistan. Given Indira Gandhi's criticism of American role in Vietnam, he knew better than to expect more. Pakistan was soon to become a key American ally in South Asia. When Jimmy Carter came in 1978, he was the only US President not to combine his India trip with what has become a compulsory trip to Pakistan. The bonhomie didn't last long and economic ties soon became strained with Coca Cola pulling out of India along with other American firms only to come back decades later. It was to be two decades before India played host to the next American president. When Bill Clinton came in 2000, his charisma reminded old South Blocks hags of the Eisenhower era. Six years later, this week India hosts George Bush.
The media frenzy in India over his visit in India is understandable. The question being asked from pan-shop to posh TV studios is whether the US finally come to terms with the fact that it cannot 'ignore' India's emergence as a economic power in the 21st century? Will US try to limit India's hope of a role in world politics by clipping our nuclear feathers and curtailing our dreams of a permanent seat in the UN security council? Or is it something we Indians would like to believe?
The present government faces a challenge of unprecedented quantum. It is dependent on the Left who believe that India's strategic partnership with the United States is dangerous. The Left claims that the strategic partnership facilitates the US in acquiring vantage positions in the Indian economy because we Indians represent a huge market for American goods and they would like us to believe that the present US policy is guided by its efforts to use India to contain China.
It is impractical that the Indo-American ties are being viewed in uni-dimensional terms. We must accept that a partnership with the world's largest economy is inevitable. It is in India's interest to forge closer ties with the US. And the Manmohan Singh government cannot choose to let the Left decide India's foreign policy. If the Left wants that privilege it must become an accountable part of the governance system. India's fragile relationship with America cannot be held hostage to the demands of the communists stuck in a time-warp. While it is fashionable to criticize and condemn everything American, India must recognize that it can no longer be non-aligned in a uni-polar world.
A change in Indo-US ties has even made China take note. This is the first time that the ties have thawed post Pokhran II. On the Kashmir issue, we have seen the US move away from its usual response of a UN sponsored resolution of the dispute. A closer US-India tie should lead to US influencing Pakistan's decision to seek a serious resolution of the conflict soon.
However there will be continue to be differences and these must exist between two sovereign nations. George Bush and his administration expects unilateral support of its allies and India has always been one with an opinion that differs. India must continue to condemn America's designs for political and economic hegemony through use of force and unjustified war. The American actions in Iraq must be condemned. Nothing can justify one nation's forceful occupation of another under the pretext of fighting global terrorism. If the US truly wishes to become the Global Sheriff it must also spank the other naughty boys including its favorite pet in South Asia - Pakistan.
What will happen is what happens everywhere - negotiations. Each party will have to decide their priorities and some concessions will have to be made. For the American side, the success of the visit will depend upon an agreement on civil nuclear energy. And for India any agreement that gives away too much will be a political hara-kiri. Finally both Bush and Singh will have to hammer out a deal that they can sell to their people. It shouldn't come as a surprise that Mr. Bush finds "this foreign policy stuff is a little frustrating." as quoted by the New York Daily News (April 23, 2002).