It is not exactly a secret that India-US relations are going through a rough patch. Getting this relationship back on track will require extraordinary vigilance and nimble footwork, qualities that are lacking on both sides. India’s ambassador to the US, the always rigorous and cogent S. Jaishankar, in a recent speech to the Carnegie Endowment, clearly outlined the challenges. In part, this relationship is a victim of its own success.
The very special conjuncture that had put the wind beneath the wings of this relationship has dissipated. He was too polite to say so, but the Obama administration does not seem to have a strategic framework within which to think of India, and the strategic frameworks it does have are constantly subverted by global events and its own half-hearted engagements. When there is no clarity on strategy, every aspect of the relationship becomes more transactional.
India’s growth story has slowed down. This has two consequences. Interest in and respect for India automatically diminishes with a slowdown in growth. India also loses support from the most powerful lobby in the US, namely business. There is an air of exasperation with India, and while a lot of it is exaggerated, economic uncertainty leads to uncertain interest.
On a range of issues, particularly intellectual property rights and nuclear liability, India and the US have divergent interests. India is right to stick to its positions. But in the absence of momentum elsewhere, these divergences stick out. Even if the Obama administration is ready to lower the temperature on these issues, the fact remains that many Congressmen have little to lose, and potentially much to gain personally, by grandstanding on these issues. Finally, on a whole range of global issues, from Russia to Syria, India and the US will not see eye to eye.
But the overwhelming sense you get is how much respect India has lost on these issues. The question is not whether we agree with the US. The gulf between Indian and American positions in the UN on various things has always been vast. It is a fact that India does not seem to be able to cogently project and explain its position. The differences are attributed, not to a deep strategic logic on India’s part, but to it taking a defensive and lazy option.
Again, some of this is exaggerated, but it is hard to blame others for not seeing our deep strategic compulsions when we don’t fully understand them either. The nimble India, intelligently trying to navigate opportunities, is …continued »