Obama India Visit:

Great Expectations, Greater Frustrations

The visit of the President of the United States Barack Obama to India in November provides the meeting ground for leaders of the Worlds largest democracies. The visit would be seminal in many respects and the inspiring leadership of both President Obama and Dr. Man Mohan Singh has raised great expectations both in New Delhi and Washington. Will the prospects be realized remains to be seen, for the familiar negativity that preceded the Commonwealth Games in India which had led to exposure of some skeletons of corruption in the cupboard of the Organizing Committee are affecting the Obama visit with recent revelations that the US had prior information of David Headley’s activities revealed by his wife to the FBI way back in 2005.     

It is apparent that the media gets intensely active during such seminal events and many facts which are previously unknown come out. On the other hand perhaps the naysayers have a stronger voice at such times and thus the rise in the hullabaloo over achievements and failures.

But first the hopes, much is expected from the visit of President Barack Obama to New Delhi which is the top event for both the countries in the coming days, with the US administration flagging the same as one of the longest overseas tours to a country by the President. The Indian government with pro US stance of Dr. Man Mohan Singh and the excellent personal rapport that he has been able to establish with the American President within a short time that had led to the extra ordinary gesture of a first state visit for the Indian Prime Minister in the White House after Mr. Obama took over the Presidency also drives hope that the outcome will be significant.

We expect key agreements in the fields of space, science and technology and education which are areas of prime concern for India. Space provides an effective sphere for engagement as NASA has already acknowledged that the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) as one of the leading space agencies in the World with which it would like to cooperate. Similarly science and technology cooperation will provide much impetus while education is a field where much can be done between India and the United States.

However there appear to be many hurdles as well. With American employment numbers dropping down last week and a difficult internal elections which will decide the majority of the Senate and the Congress in the United States, Obama may be compelled to continue to hark upon reduction of outsourcing which is highly unpopular in India where hundreds of youth are gainfully employed in providing BPO services to many foreign companies based in the United States. The US President may have very limited leverages in this sphere.

On the other hand the Headley revelations has been a sore point and are likely to be exacerbated given that the US administration would be seen in some ways complicit in not revealing the identity and intent of Mr Headley even though his wife had indicated his complicity in terrorism related activities in 2005. The Indian and American authorities will now be hard put to place these issues in perspective and gestures of visiting the Taj in Mumbai where the major terror attack took place are not likely to assuage the sentiment particularly in Mumbai which suffered maximum fatalities in the strike.

Major agreements in the fields of nuclear energy and defence are also proving to be difficult. American companies are quite unhappy with the Nuclear Liability Act passed by the Indian parliament recently. Thus a major agreement in this sphere may not be in the offing as domestic laws cannot be circumvented even if there are some overwhelming political compulsions for the Indian government.

A similar impasse exists in terms of the defence pacts that the US is keen to sign with the Indian side, the Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-spatial Cooperation (BECA). US domestic laws on arms transfer have some stringent clauses which are not likely to be accepted by the Indian side. The Indian Air Force has in fact indicated recently that it had confirmed to the government that it can do without American communication equipment on board the transport aircraft that are likely to be purchased through the Foreign Military Sales route recently. 

All this makes movement on the defence front very limited except perhaps lifting of some DRDO establishments from restrictive list which will open the route for participation of American companies in joint ventures. Will the government tweak the Nuclear Liability Act to provide some relief to the Americans remains to be seen, this will be a difficult exercise given that the Act has been opposed by major political formations some of which as the CPI M who are not favourably inclined towards the United States.

All these issues may make the four day visit of the President just another high dignitary coming to India rather than a seminal one that we had hoped for. The Government is also playing down expectations with the External Affairs Minister indicating that India was not expecting US President’s endorsement to a permanent seat in the Security Council. Despite all this let us hope that great expectations do not become greater frustrations in the weeks ahead. 


More by :  Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle

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