High on symbolism, low on expectation

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New Delhi: In the run-up to US President Barack Obama’s visit to India early next month, there is a sense of optimism in the corridors of power here, but the level of excitement and expectation is not as high as was witnessed on the eve of his predecessor George Bush’s visit in March 2006.

Preparations for Obama’s November 6-9 have almost been completed, enabling Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to set off on his week-long East Asia tour along with his team of key officials. Though the American leader’s itinerary in India is being kept a closely guarded secret, indications are that he will travel to only Mumbai and Delhi, skipping the holy city of Amritsar and the Taj Mahal in Agra.

Both New Delhi and Washington do realize the importance of the visit, but are assiduously trying not to raise the level of expectations over its outcome. For India, one thing is quite sure: the Bush era was rich, not only in terms of symbolism and protocol but also in substance. Bush might have become a pariah in the eyes of the world due to the policies he pursued, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan, but senior officials admit that his Presidency was the best thing to have happened to Indo-US ties with the former American President making no secret of his desire to help India emerge as a big Asian power on a par with China.

India is still not sure any major milestones are possible during Obama Presidency to give a new meaning and direction to the relationship that has been marked by differences in recent months over a plethora of issues. However, both Indian and American officials are downplaying the differences.

The Indian side is disappointed with Obama’s administration for continuing to aid Pakistan despite being aware of the links between the establishment in Islamabad and jehadi groups, which have weakened the global fight against terror. Privately, the Indian officials do understand that Washington needs Islamabad “more than ever on today” to realize its goals in Afghanistan. However, what irks them is that Washington is turning a blind eye towards terrorism emanating from Pakistan against India, while being concerned only about the activities of terror groups operating on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

Even the joint counter-terrorism initiative has not made much headway due to widening differences between the two sides over the confessions made by terror suspect David Coleman Headley. Obama’s controversial moves to curb outsourcing have also not gone down well with New Delhi. The issue is expected to figure prominently during talks. New Delhi is disappointed with relentless pressure being exerted on it from Washington to bring about changes in the Civil-Nuclear Liability Bill, passed by Parliament.

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