Not much can be expected from Obama India visit; no surprises likely

Not much can be expected from Obama India visit; no surprises likely


Nothing much is expected from US President Barack Obama’s current visit to India. However, one possibility is that he may raise Kashmir issue with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. If that is Obama’s agenda, he is sadly mistaken. Kashmir is an integral part of  India and no one has any say over it.

By J.V. Lakshmana Rao

The hype and euphoria that usually accompany when a US President visits a country  is missing with regard to the current visit of President Barack Obama to India.

It can be understood if that excitement is missing in the US because of the mid-term polls, but it is equally missing in India. The reports reaching the US from India are marked by the absence of public enthusiasm in the Obama visit.  There are two reasons —there is no specific bilateral issue that Obama is going with to India to find a solution or a proposal that would help India and the US in the matters of trade and commerce.

Even to think of some surprises in Obama’s agenda in visiting India, the possibilities seem very bleak. One surprise that is possible is that Obama may make a surprise stopover in Pakistan  before he lands in India. The idea gets strengthened because his predecessor President George W. Bush made a similar surprise of five-hour stopover in Afghanistan before he landed in New Delhi on March 1, 2006.  Even the journalists among whom was this writer, who accompanied Bush, did not have the slightest inclination until someone halfway on the flight in the midair left a feeler that Bush was on his way to Afghanistan. So, now  there is a possibility that Obama may also surprise all by stopping over in Islamabad before he lands in Mumbai on November 6.

Of late, the rating of Obama’s popularity is not only low in the US, but also in India. By his own expressions and actions, Obama seems to have been drifting away from those usually cordial feelings of Indians.  No doubt that Obama endeared himself to Indians when he hosted his first-ever state dinner and reception to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and described India as a natural ally of the US in the fight against terrorism.  But now Obama’s actions and expressions are far from that natural feeling of cordiality between people of India and the President.

When Obama’s predecessors  — Bill Clinton and George W. Bush — visited India there were celebrations all over the country. Besides people in New Delhi and elsewhere, people in Rajasthan in case of Clinton’s visit and     people in Hyderabad in case of Bush’s visit celebrated as if someone of their family members was visiting them. Now except the people in Mumbai, where Obama is planning to visit the sites of 26/11 terrorist attacks, and Delhi where he has official engagements,  people in  other places in  India are not expecting anything special about Obama’s visit.

However, a  strong feeler that has been let out in the US during the recent UN General Assembly anniversary has been that Obama would impress  upon Manmohan Singh to settle the Kashmir issue in favor of Pakistan, if New Delhi wants the Washington  support for its claim for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council.  If that is the agenda Obama is trying to pursue during his visit to India, he is sadly mistaken because Kashmir is integral part of India and Paksitan’s claim on Kashmir is some sort of seeking compensation for its loss of erstwhile East Pakistan, in which India played a crucial role for its own  protection to ward  off the tremendous influx of refugees from what is now known as Bangladesh, and stop mass killings there.

If Obama wants to pump in aid to Pakistan for the obvious reason of fighting against terrorism, it is left to his country and its lawmakers.  But insisting on India to be flexible   over the Kashmir issue is not his business. Obama has not even been partially successful so far, despite billions of dollars of US aid to Pakistan, in the fight against terrorism and tracing of Osama Bin Laden.  It is a known fact that the US intelligence agencies are very much convinced that Osama bin Laden is hiding somewhere in Pakistan with its complete knowledge and official protection, and  nothing substantial is happening in apprehending him. Meanwhile an expensive war is being waged in Afghanistan to protect it from Taliban and Al Quaida forces that enjoy Islamic support.

If the US thinks that it is doing a favor by supporting India for permanent membership of the UN Security Council, it is grossly mistaken. Such a recognition to India is to the advantage of the UN and the world.  India is an emerging economy and home for about one-fifth of human population living on the earth and has a long history and culture that are based on peace and principles of harmony and democracy. 

Obama must also ensure that his administration’s aid to Pakistan for humanitarian purposes and strengthening of military in the fight against terrorism is put to proper use but not used for creating chaotic conditions in neighboring India by encouraging terrorist elements in Kashmir and elsewhere.

As far as India is concerned, Obama’s administration is opposing US companies outsourcing work to Indian firms.  However emphatic economists and experts are in saying that the US companies have saved billions of dollars and remained in business by outsourcing, the fact does not get into the mind of Obama.  These companies have been deprived of the tax benefits and put under heavy strain with the tightening of immigration rules and increasing of the visa fees by the US. The latest action of the Obama administration is to insist on bringing about changes in the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill passed by the Indian Parliament. While not much progress has been made following the signing of the Civil Nuclear Agreement amid several odds between the US and India years ago, the US is trying to put more hurdles in the way of implementing it, while such agreements between India and other countries are already progressing well.

While no surprises are expected from Obama’s visit to India, one possible surprise by him can be if he remains silent and does not insist on the Kashmir issue but makes an announcement in favor of outsourcing.   

He should encourage equitable  Indo-US bilateral trade. India has already placed orders for several billion  dollars worth of US-made defense hardware and aircraft. Let Obama further encourage the strong relations that have been existing between the US and India.  Whatever the US does with Pakistan is its business as far as it does not harm India.

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