Will Obama’s visit to India open new vistas in burgeoning Indo-US relation?

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By Dr. Satish Misra
Questions about the significance of the visit of US President Barak Obama in November are taking rounds in academic as well as media circles. Will the visit open new vistas in the burgeoning Indo-US relations with areas of bilateral cooperation expanding and mutual understanding on regional and international issues increasing or Obama’s coming to India will be another exercise in futility.

In order to comprehend the importance of the Indo-US ties, let us look at some facts. The Obama administration and the UPA government of Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh are very keen to expand the mutual ties and there exists a vast scope for doing that too.

The growing clout of China and the current aggressiveness being displayed by the present Chinese leadership make it all the more important for the two countries to evolve a thorough long-term understanding on regional and international issues.

Obama’s official visit to India is the third by a US President in last 10 years beginning with Bill Clinton in 2000 and by George Bush in 2006. Real significance and the point of departure from his two predecessors is the fact that while Clinton and Bush chose to come during the second tenure at the While House, Obama is coming here in his first term.

Though details of the visit of the US President are being worked out, it is hoped that the architecture of the bilateral ties prepared by two previous US Presidents will be further strengthened and developed by Obama by adding solid contents to the existing relationship.

At the moment, there are irritants in the bilateral relations. Obama’s domestic concerns are casting a dark shadow on the developing ties between the world’s oldest and largest democracies. A row over outsourcing and a sharp hike in visa fee are hurting the Indian economic and business interests. Indian techies going to the US are facing hardships. Outsourcing by the US companies to Indian firms is an issue which is confronting Indian business community. Ban rather reduction in outsourcing is the direct result of the global recession, which hit the US economy hard.

Under domestic pressure, Obama has favored a ban on the outsourcing, which in turn has created fears in the minds of the Indian business community particularly among the Information Technology industry.

Undoubtedly, there are other areas, which hold promise of growth, but there are serious doubts over Obama’s capacity to deliver. In the background of Obama’s nose-diving popularity graph, it is being said that the US President may not be able to give a decisive push to the growing bilateral ties.

Notwithstanding Obama’s difficulties at home, the two governments are trying their best to make the visit a success. Series of visits to India and from India are in the pipeline to prepare the ground for the visit. Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao is traveling to Washington to firm up the agenda of the visit. Final touches to the visit will be given during US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Willam Burn’s visit to New Delhi next month.

With the objective of deepening the bilateral ties and providing real value contents to it, two US delegations came to New Delhi this month. Both Obama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had committed to taking practical steps to advance global food security and increase Indo-US agricultural cooperation when the two met in 2009. As a follow-up of the commitment, a high level US official delegation held talks in New Delhi with Indian officials to identify areas of cooperation in Agriculture and Food Security; Food Processing, Farm-to market linkages and Extension; and crop and Weather Forecasting.

Seriousness and the keen interest of the US President in India can possibly be assessed by the visit of another high level visit of Obama’s Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra and Secretary of State’s Senior Advisor for Innovation Alec Ross to Delhi and Rajasthan. This delegation is an important first step of the US-India Innovation Exchange, which was announced by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna during the June 4 US-India Strategic Dialogue.

The Technology delegation is designed to leverage US and Indian expertise to help produce real world technology solutions in three areas of energy, education and e-governance. The talks between the US delegation and Indian officials held intensive discussions for preparing projects which are ready for investment and ultimate market entry.

“Given that the US and India share strong cultures of creative idea generation and innovative risk taking, we are optimistic about the potential of new projects arising from the Delegation,” a US State Department press statement pointed out before the commencement of the visit.

Apart from it, cooperation in the field of defense is one area in which there is tremendous potential. Defense Minister A. K. Antony is going to Washington at the end of September to hold talks for boosting mutually beneficial ties in the vital sector of defense.

But even here, there are hurdles. Washington wants India to sign three agreements namely Logistic Support Agreement (LSA), the End-User Agreement and the Communications Interoper-ability and Security Memo-randum Agreement (CISMOA)- But New Delhi has reservations about some of the aspects of these agreements.

Inter-operability is the most crucial aspect of the Indo-US defense ties without which doors to real high tech defense technologies cannot be opened. The agreements are important steps towards building confidence.

US Under Secretary of Defense on policy Michele Flournoy came last to New Delhi and he said that the three military agreements are “foundational” in nature. Flournoy further informed that similar agreements have been signed with other US partners for whom Pentagon had opened the doors to cutting edge defense technology.

In this background, both Obama as well as Manmohan Singh will have to adopt a determined approach to take the Indo-US ties to the higher stage so that the two democracies could work jointly against forces of terrorism and destabilization.
Courtesy: Daily Excelsior

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