Showmanship & Substance


As I mentioned earlier this week, I wanted to get an Indian perspective on the Obama-Singh talks in Washington. Our India contributor Madhav Nalapat gave me his take on the visit:

In a party still filled with Cold Warriors nostalgic for the US-bashing days of the past, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has never concealed his view: that a strong US-India partnership was necessary for both the economic progress of India and ensuring that the country remains moderate.  However, his new partner, US President Barack Obama, has thus far been very tentative over India, missing the country altogether on his first visit to Asia and showering praise on China, a country that Singh suggests may not share the values of democracy and religious freedom common to both the US and India.

Obama as “showman” was magnificent, lavishing attention on Singh in the first state visit of a foreign head of government of the new US administration. However, in terms of substance, his approach to India remained chilly. Obama sought to dilute the nuclear concessions given by George W Bush by asking India to accept the more stringent norms applicable to other states. On defence issues and hi-tech cooperation, meanwhile, there was very little forward movement, in contrast to the President’s eagerness to expand space cooperation with China (a country that he invited to help be the co-arbiter of South Asian matters).

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‘Obama will need to go beyond cosmetic gestures such as holding a Diwali celebration in the White House if he is to convince India that he takes the country seriously. Thus far, there’s little sign of such progress. The outstretched hand of Prime Minister Singh needs to be met with a willingness to regard India — a democracy of 1.2 billion — as being in the same league as China.’

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