Obama is not a balm for India

Published: November 2, 2010

Obama aims to improve bilateral ties with India during his visit.

It’s festival season in India, with Diwali, the festival of lights, just round the corner. This year, the annual event seems to be overshadowed  by the upcoming visit of US President Barack Obama.

I don’t remember this kind of excitement occurring with regard to a visit by any other foreign head of state. Today, no news bulletin is complete unless there is some mention of Uncle Sam. Both Hindi and English  newspapers are full of stories describing not only the political significance of the trip, but also bits of Obama’s schedule. We know where he will be staying, what he will be eating and which music group will be performing at the dinner that the Indian president will host in his honour.

This obsession with Obama puzzles many people.  It seems as if our well being and future growth depends upon keeping the supposedly most powerful man in the world happy. The government ensured the passage of the Nuclear Liability Bill in parliament well in advance of the arrival of this most important guest.

A sensible mind fails to understand why India, which likes to call itself a rising power, needs to hinge its happiness on the pleasure of the USA. Why do we fail to demonstrate our confidence as a rising economy which can deal with America on an equal footing?

One section of the intelligentsia is smugly satisfied that the American president is skipping Pakistan in his tour of South Asia, thereby demonstrating his greater strategic proximity with India. This group seems to view this as a case of snubbing Pakistan in return for harbouring terrorists.

Another group of commentators, however, are not happy with the recent, top-level “strategic dialogue” and the $2 billion in military aid which the US recently pledged to our northern neighbour. They feel that the US should appease India by showing greater generosity and proposing its name for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. They believe Obama should review his policy regarding outsourcing, which has affected Indian firms and IT professionals, and ensure greater investment in the Indian market.

But such opinions are outdated and reflect a mindset not free from the colonial past and not in sync with the new India, which aspires for a new future. Today, America has lost its vision and its moral confidence and is turning against its own values of championing a free economy, meritocracy and liberalisation. It now talks of controlling immigrants, protectionism and regulating the free flow of intellectuals. American society is becoming pessimistic.

On the other hand, India today is a place where hope rules, where meritocracy has a firm voice, where the Raj has become a thing of the past, where free trade is an economic mantra.

As reality has changed, the parameters for dealing with America should also alter. We should not appear to be the meek recipients of economic largess and words of assurance from a so-called superpower. America needs India for its survival, far more than India needs the US.

The other day, it was enlightening to hear Sonu, my driver, talk about India’s hype over Obama’s visit. He said that although America talks of peace in South Asia and a harmonious settlement in Kashmir, it still sells arms to both countries. He questioned whether the western world is even interested in a stable subcontinent.

However, this kind of common sense is rarely seen. The Pakistani establishment believes that it is a strategic partner of the US, as does India. Both states live in a make-believe world, and have forgotten about their shared past and the possibility of a prosperous future.

The disconnect between foreign politicians and the rising Indian state is evident in the way we are reacting to the Obama visit. Our so-called free media has become a tool of the establishment. We rarely hear critical voices and never have any critical analyses of India’s relationship with the US. It feels as if the media is trying to manufacture consent on behalf of the government.

Such thoughts make me restless. There is a gap between what we want to see and what we actually see.

If only I could shake off such thoughts and enjoy the revelry of the wonderful festival of Diwali.

sanjay.kumar

Sanjay Kumar

A New Delhi based broadcast journalist who reports on national and international affairs. He is a contributor to the Asia Pacific based magazine, The Diplomat. He tweets as @destinydefier (twitter.com/destinydefier)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Neeraj, India

    To me, you seems to be the only person, so much excited about Obama’s visit to India. There is absolutely no hype on his visit to our country in the local media. Can you cite a single example of your alleged media over hype? To tell you the truth I am a little surprised not to find adequate pre-tour media coverage of a VIP such as Obama.
    However, you are absolutely right in saying that the US needs India far more than we need them. The problem is despite knowing this bitter truth, Obama never misses an opportunity to accuse India of stealing jobs in the US, just to win over a few more disgruntled voters on his side. This power monger is a difficult slippery fish to handle. Bush was far-far better person than this calculating street smart politician.
    Anyway, there is no need to go any extra mile to win uncle Sam’s favors, after all it us Indians who are helping the US economy to stay afloat.Recommend

  • Isfand

    Well done,nice articleRecommend

  • http://www.faithfreedom.org Ali Sina

    The most powerful man in the world isn’t Barack Obama, it’s Rupert Murdoch. Skipping a visit to Pakistan should not be seen as snubbing Pakistan for terrorism — there has been a long strategic dialog between Pakistan and the US recently. Along with India, Pakistan is also an important “strategic ally” for Washington in limiting China’s power projection capabilities, or to put it bluntly “containing” China. Pakistan’s national interests clearly align with US’ interests, not China’s. In fact, with PLA’s entry into Gilgit-Baltistan, some intellectuals have started labeling China as a national security threat for Pakistan. It’s a game changer.Recommend

  • Naeem Siddiqui, Australia

    Sanjay,

    I agree with you, both India and Pakistan behaving like slaves and trying all there best to attract/lure US. India is offering her ‘services’ to help US contain china, Pakistan is offering her ‘services’ to help contain terrorism in Afghanistan. :)Recommend

  • http://www.sddglobal.com Vidya Devaiah

    Sanjay, you are so right about the hype and the gap between what we want to see and what we actually see. I work in the outsourcing industry and I firmly believe that the proposed curbs and restrictions on outsourcing are no more than political rhetoric. Such curbs make no economic sense. We addressed the issue of curbs on outsourcing on our blog two years ago during the run up to President Obama’s election: The tax code that President Obama refers to “has been in place for decades, and the setting up of overseas operations by American corporations is an economic reality that cannot be turned around merely by changing the tax code. Simply put, those American companies with manufacturing and service set-ups abroad haven’t made these arrangements to take advantage of the tax deferral. They have done it because of lower operational costs, or because of the proximity to target markets, or for other reasons that may have nothing to do with tax breaks or outsourcing of jobs. Changing the tax code to remove the deferral will only create a barrier that will reduce the ability of U.S. companies to compete in today’s global marketplace. If the U.S. government offers incentives and tax credits to companies that create more jobs for the American workforce, that might help a bit. But then again, those benefits would have to be enormous to outweigh the benefits of offshoring.” see Law Without Borders. Nothing has changed in the interim.

    Vidya Devaiah
    high-end legal outsourcingRecommend

  • parvez

    Nice article and your concern is certainly not misplaced.Recommend

  • http://www.tanzeel.wordpress.com Tanzeel

    Could you please inform that one section of Intelligentsia (who is smugly satisfied that the American president is skipping Pakistan in his tour of South Asia) that it’s a not a tour of South Asia but only 4 countries of Asia. The US president after staying in India will visit South Korea and Japan. Obama will will visit Pakistan in early 2011.Recommend

  • julie

    This trip is costing the American tax payers a minimum or TWO BILLION DOLLARS! His entourage includes 3000 people and 34 warships! WHY??? Recommend

  • Nish

    There is so much to talk about the business and deals that have been signed in 3 days but you chose to write a very easy article full of nonsense. Do some homework and try to find out the real details, all you have written so far was already in news headlines. I think you should have gone in deatils of these headlines and checked why there was so much discussion. It seems you are like you driver who doesn’t understand why there is so much talk and discussion about the deals and the visit. As a columnist, you have the responsibility to bring out the truth but it seems you yourself do not understand why he was here and why everybody was talking about it or you are just feeding the readers which you think want to read just what they want to read. We know who your primary readers are?Recommend

  • Ajay Mittal

    Sanjay your are wrong in saying “This obsession with Obama puzzles many people. It seems as if our well being and future growth depends upon keeping the supposedly most powerful man in the world happy. The government ensured the passage of the Nuclear Liability Bill in parliament well in advance of the arrival of this most important guest.

    A sensible mind fails to understand why India, which likes to call itself a rising power, needs to hinge its happiness on the pleasure of the USA. Why do we fail to demonstrate our confidence as a rising economy which can deal with America on an equal footing? ”

    US is a super power and it is right to be obsessed at this stage of India’s timeline when even every fraction of technology exchange will help India many times over and India needs to seize this “business’ opportunity as this window “of favorable consitions” may not last long. World never operates in an idealistic manner..selling arems to both countries (after all they demand..India is more intelligent as it distrubutes its eggs in amny baskets)..why shouldn’t they sell arms and planes if it boosts their economy. Fools are always taken advantage of, what’s surprising about that. What is awesome is that India knows how to extract as well as manage the risks. It has managed succesfully China, Pakistn and US in the past while maintaining good relations with Iran, Russia, Israel, it is having all these othyer countries eating out of its hand.

    Come on India desrves to play its games. And it is required too. Paksitan in our neighbor has non-stop injected and cultivated India-centric terrorists and tried to partner with China against India. After 60 years, India does need to neutralize Pakistan. Pakistan is a real pain in the butt as it has not only harmed India through terrorism but becoming more an dmore unstable eventually causing side effects of huge significance on India. It is a sitting duck waiting to be taken over by China or US. China must already consider it its backyard just as Pakistan wnats to consider Afgh. its backyard.

    Such ‘tight’ relation with US (even if make believe) is important to keep China in check. However India hasn’t fallen to US temptations either in taking adverserial stand against China. China will relaize that India doesn’t succumb to any pressures and can be indeed a very reliable friend and busines partner that believes in mutual benefit.

    So nothing wrong in feting US President. He is World’s Predicent by virtue of being President of Super Power country. We also know tow to CHina and sing lullabies to China even when it armtwists us. We do it for diplomatic gameship not because we have to.Recommend