Indian Decade

India not Ready for US Marriage

The US looks and acts like a fair-weather friend. A close relationship with it might actually constrain India.

Now that the dust has settled and the euphoria has died down a little, it’s finally possible to attempt a cool and clear analysis of US President Barack Obama’s visit to India. The charm offensive launched by the president swept India’s politicians, businessmen and much of the media off their feet. Even the normally anti-US and ‘anti-imperialist’ Communist parties in India toned down their criticism for Obama’s visit.

But you’d have thought the fact that the United States hasn’t treated India all that well over the last 60 years would prompt some caution in rational minds. So why didn’t it? Perhaps a good analogy is with a courting couple, when the girl who has been cool during years of courtship decides that she’s had a change of heart. There are several possible reasons for the apparent US shift. Maybe the boy (India) is now smarter than he was before—or richer! Maybe the girl believes that the boy will treat her better now or can look after her better. Perhaps she’s less confident about her own charms as she gets older.  Or, more cynically, perhaps she worries her suitor will abandon her for someone else if she doesn’t respond to his advances.

Whatever the reason, it should be difficult for India to accept such a sudden change in attitude. Should she trust what appears to be such a fair-weather friend?

India is far more powerful and stable than she was 60 years ago, but the American charm offensive risks unsettling this happy equilibrium and it’s possible that having the United States as a partner will be more of a burden than a benefit.  India is, after all, still evolving as an independent nation and needs her own space to grow economically and culturally.  Having to consider the sentiments of the United States alongside our own interests may hamper India’s progress.

Moreover, the promises and hype created by Obama’s visit might be detrimental to our long-term interests.  A permanent seat on the UN Security Council, for example, shouldn’t be viewed as a ‘gift’ from America.  If anything, it should be something that India attains on its own, by virtue of its own efforts, capabilities and international standing. And anyway, India should consider the relevance of the United Nations and its Security Council to its own interests.  India has achieved a substantial amount in the last 60 years, despite the country’s humble roots—it doesn’t now need to depend on praise from others.

Meanwhile, Obama’s verbal attack on Pakistan as a hub of terrorism was no doubt music to the ears of many hawkish Indians.  But it was a setback to the bigger long-term interests of those on the Indian subcontinent who desire peace between India and Pakistan. The little progress on confidence building measures was destabilized by Obama’s short-sighted pandering.

All this means that what was a well-intentioned visit became an emotional, economic and strategic restraint on India. It seems as if Obama is trying to tie India into a relationship that she neither needs nor is emotionally ready for.