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How India can use the Bush visit
December 29, 2005
George W Bush will be completing his second and last term as the US President in 2008. He is scheduled to visit the Indian subcontinent early next year. It is therefore appropriate for us to think of how India should make use of the remaining years of his presidency.
The declared focus of President Bush has been the spread of democracy and freedom in the world. Therefore, these are the most obvious showcases for him in India.
He should first be made aware of the diversity of our country -- in terms of race, language, religion, and culture. We have been able to hold together under a democratic form of government for the last 60 years. If Bush wanted proof of the validity of democracy, what better example than India!
If there were to be an election during his visit, it would physically demonstrate how political parties campaign and how the electorate, including the less educated, the poor and women, exercise their franchise. There is nothing like seeing this process in person.
He will probably address a joint session of Parliament. But perhaps even more important for his education will be to see and listen to a session of the Lok Sabha from the visitors' gallery. He will be so relieved to see that, as President of the US, he does not have to face a Parliament like ours for so many days each year!
On the other hand, the President of India, who lives in a mansion that's far more imposing than the White House, is only a titular head of state -- a contrast that will not be lost on him.
One of the outstanding features of India is the importance of religion and yet the mutual tolerance of different religious groups. A flying visit to the ghats in Varanasi will demonstrate the depth of tolerance, and a visit, however brief, to a home for the destitute run by Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity will show how tolerant, appreciative and supportive people are of the work of Christian missionaries. Most of the support to the Missionaries of Charity comes from Hindus devoutly committed to their religion but who believe in helping the poor.
A heart-warming sight in any part of India is that of streams of children in their school uniforms, wending their way each morning with their bags of books. Mr Bush must visit a municipal school in Mumbai to realise how even the poorest families value education for their children. That conviction and commitment of the parents is the force propelling India out of its relative backwardness.
The other end of the spectrum for the visit would be the high-tech beacons of India. One of the Indian Institutes of Technology and the Electronic City in Bangalore -- the Silicon Plateau of India -- should be a must on his itinerary. There, he must see the IT centres of IBM and the campuses of the big three Indian IT companies (TCS, Infosys, and Wipro). They constitute a piece of the US in India -- where there is convergence not only in technology but also in the style of management and ownership.
Nowhere else in the world, including Europe and Japan, will he see such compatibility with business in the US in attitude and style as in Bangalore, which is the window to the future of India.
George Bush is a practising Christian and he will find it heart-warming to know how Christianity arrived in India with St Thomas, much before it arrived in most parts of Europe, and how it has survived in this country for 2,000 years. A flying visit to Kerala will show him how churches and temples co-exist in each town and people respect each other's beliefs.
The other major feature of India that needs to be impressed on Mr Bush is how our armed forces are subject to control by elected ministers and civil servants in a democratic set-up. This is in sharp contrast to all our neighbouring countries.
Now, what should India seek to gain from George Bush's visit? First, like most of us, an understanding about the size and shape of a country becomes potent only when we visit that country. No amount of map reading and briefing by experts can substitute for the real feel of a country -- its people, and its sights and smells.
He has just been to Japan and China. Asia has three really important and distinct spheres -- Japan, China, and India. Almost all the countries in Asia are sub-regions of these three. This visit will certainly show him the magnitude of the cultural influence of India in this region and how small other countries in this region (Pakistan, Thailand, Malaysia, etc.) are in comparison with India.
He would also realise that India is not such a close ally of Russia. In fact, his newfound friends in China have greater economic and political links with Russia than India does. India has a vibrant private sector which constitutes an overwhelming part of the economy and is more linked to Europe and the US than Russia.
India and the US have complementary economies and are therefore natural allies. The US has the advantage of technology while India can offer a large and growing market for products of that technology, and it has low cost-manufacturing capabilities that can exploit US technology more effectively for the world market. By lowering trade and visa barriers, business groups on both sides will find ways of exploiting these complementarities to the advantage of both countries. The US can offer much greater assistance in education, especially in engineering and management studies.
Unlike in the case of China, there is no language barrier because English is the medium for most university education and business transactions in India.
On our part, India should become less critical and show more understanding towards US positions in its international relations. In the past we have been eager to criticise and slow to show appreciation of US positions. This has to change demonstrably. The mullahs of Iran and Islamic terrorists in Pakistan and elsewhere are as much a threat to India as they are to the US.
Even if we do not participate in military action along with the US, what we can do is to refrain from airing unfriendly opinions in public. Today the US is the only superpower in the world and it is going to be so for the foreseeable future. It is in our own interest to recognise this and seek areas of complementarity with the US.