Chatham House Acting Head and Senior Research Fellow Gareth Price was in India earlier this month. The Diplomat caught up with him to get his take on some of the key issues facing the country in 2010.
Barack Obama’s trip to India last month, including his call for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council for India, was seen by many as marking a further important step in ties. How would you describe relations between the two?
India enjoys the attention that the United States is giving it at the moment; the support for its permanent UNSC seat played well in Delhi, on top of the recognition that the US is the only country to push through ‘game-changing’ policies, such as the US-India civil nuclear deal. While there’s no wish to become a major US ally, within India there’s also recognition that the United States is becoming the partner of choice, ahead of the UK, in fields such as education and for employment. So relations are strong and deepening.
Do you get any sense that India feels the relationship is one of convenience for the US as it seeks to balance China?
On both sides there’s a recognition that the United States wants India as a balance to China; and in India there’s no wish to become some kind of US poodle. But when relations with China are poor, increased support from the US isn’t unwelcome to Delhi. That said, Pakistan continuously comes into the equation.
Relations between China and India have been relatively cool the past year or so. What did you make of Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit, and how optimistic are you ties will improve?
Economically, ties are good; China is now India's largest trading partner. But India's exports are primarily raw materials. China has proved unwilling to open up its markets to India's strengths. And China is now the country most averse to India becoming a permanent UNSC member.
Domestically, what are some of thebiggest challenges likely to face Manmohan Singh’s government in the coming year?
Corruption is number one, ever since the Commonwealth Games, and a number of other scandals. The government appears unwilling to take liberalising measures while the economy is growing strongly. But a large part of India's political elite now appears most intent on rent-seeking than on serving the common good. This is not playing well in India.
There’s frequent talk of Rahul Gandhi being the heir apparent. What do we know about him that could give an indication of his leadership style, and can you see any circumstances under which he won’t eventually lead the Congress Party?
Rahul Gandhi is clearly the heir apparent to the Congress Party. But it's not at all clear what, apart from being a Gandhi, he will bring to ruling the world's largest democracy. His efforts to galvanise the vote for Congress thus far have not been impressive.
What kind of state is the main opposition BJP in at the moment?
Not good, but the party has been galvanised by the corruption issues within Congress. It isn't hugely clear what the BJP stands for, but the party knows what it’s against, and the greater the problems within Congress, the greater the opportunity, by default, for Congress.