Delhi’s Choice: Known Obama or Unknown Romney
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This preference might seem counter-intuitive for many reasons. For one, in recent decades, India has had greater political comfort doing business with the Republicans rather than Democrats.
For another, Delhi was deeply anxious about the Obama presidency four years ago. Obama's thesis that Pakistan will be more cooperative on Afghanistan if India could be brought around to make compromises on Kashmir deeply worried India.
India's then ambassador to Washington, Ronen Sen, mounted a massive campaign to prevent the inclusion of Jammu & Kashmir in the mandate for Obama's special envoy to South Asia, Richard Holbrooke, who was appointed within a few days of the new president being sworn in.
Delhi was also concerned at the Obama Administration's talk on making China, the top strategic partner of the United States in Asia. There was informal talk of a G-2, or a Sino-US condominium, running Asian and world affairs that alarmed New Delhi.
India was also anxious if Obama, who as a Senator from Illinois had raised many questions about the US-India nuclear deal, would help implement it as President.
Obama's record at the White House has helped dispel many of India's concerns. He has done everything possible for the quick implementation of the nuclear deal, despite the deep reservations within the Democratic Party's foreign policy establishment.
Obama was quick to walk away from the untenable idea of an American mediation on Kashmir. And then some. Obama has turned the traditional US policy towards Pakistan on its head.
After his initial effort to woo Pakistan with additional economic and military assistance failed, Obama has taken a very muscular approach to dealing with the sources of international terrorism in Pakistan.
He ordered US Special Forces to launch a bold raid on Osama bin Laden's hideout deep inside Pakistan. He has rained drones on Pakistan's western borderlands to dismantle the terror sanctuaries.
Last week he has designated the Haqqani network as an international terror organization, despite the deep reservations in Pakistan.
On China too, Obama turned on the dime. In his visit to China at the end of 2009, the President offered a strategic partnership to Beijing only to be spurned by the communist leaders.
And as Beijing began to assert itself in the waters of East and South China Seas, Obama announced a controversial 'pivot to Asia'. He reaffirmed the US commitment to maintain the balance of power in Asia amidst the rise of China.
Most of India's traditional complaints about America were about Washington's intimate ties with Rawalpindi and Beijing. With American relations with India's challenging neighbours at their lowest ebb in decades, Delhi has little reason to complain about Obama's policies.
The US President has gone out of the way and defied the
India-sceptics in the Democratic Party to deepen Washington's
strategic partnership with Delhi.
It is the UPA government's political drift at home that has slowed the forward movement in the U.S.-India relationship and not the lack of strategic interest in Washington.
To be sure, there are many in Mitt Romney's camp calling for a
stronger relationship with India. The Republican Party's electoral platform has indeed declared India as a 'geopolitical ally' of the United States.
On trade-related issues, the Republicans tend to be less critical of outsourcing and less protectionist. Unlike Obama, Romney is not likely to denounce Bengaluru in talking about America's economic future.
For all the seeming advantages to India from a Republican presidency, Delhi, which is intensely risk averse, should be happy dealing with the familiar Obama in the next four years than cope with the turbulence that might be generated by a change of guard in the White House.
India enjoys strong bipartisan political support today in the United States. The direction and intensity of Delhi's partnership with Washington are not tied to the outcome of the presidential elections.
India's big challenge is to restore Delhi's rapidly declining
credibility in the United States as a purposeful state that can act in its own interests, cut political deals and implement them.
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