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Obama 'will take home the dynamism of India's economy'

November 06, 2010 12:26 IST
As Barack Obama arrives in Mumbai, Sheela Bhatt outlines what the American leader can expect to discover on his passage to India.

A new India is ready to welcome President Barack Obama on his maiden visit to this country.

"President Obama," India's National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon said this week, "will be taking home the dynamism of the Indian economy."

On November 3, three days before Obama arrived, Menon assured the audience at a seminar on the Indo-US strategic dialogue that no one would have any complaints at the end of the visit, and it would strengthen strategic relations between the democracies.

In an interview to the Press Trust of India, when asked about the possibility of lifting the curbs on the export of dual-use technology items and support for India's permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council, Obama described the two issues as 'very difficult and complicated.'

Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao sought to play down the remark, saying, "Yes, the President is correct when he refers the issues as complex."

Naresh Chandra, who served as our ambassador to the United States when India conducted its nuclear tests in May 1998, told, "Don't expect the president to give scoops to the media. I think in his interview he is neither saying yes nor no. It's a neutral statement. I believe he will share what he wants to in his address to Indian parliamentarians. That may be dramatic."

America, Chandra said, has a lot of constraints in dealing with India, as does New Delhi. America is keen to boost US-India defence ties, but India has not agreed to sign a range of pacts to abide by US laws. So, defence ties are on the slow track for now.

The US, Chandra pointed out, has funded Pakistan so heavily that it wants India to understand its difficulties in the region. The Afghanistan issue is not going to be resolved soon. India, he said, has been briefed extensively on it by the Americans.

In the US, Obama has lost ground due to the weak economy, hence, he does not want India to create a din about his comments on outsourcing.

Notwithstanding the lack of 'big ticket' announcements to look forward to, the Indian establishment and the Indian people are all set to cheer America's charismatic first couple. The fundamentals of the relationship are strong, an external affairs ministry official emphasised. "Change the way you look at the relationship," the Indian diplomat urged.

India's 8 percent-plus growth has opened up opportunities where India is, for the first time, in a position to offer unprecedented opportunities to US businessmen in the nuclear power, space and manufacturing sectors.

Strategic thinker M K Bhadrakumar, a former Indian diplomat, said it is time to reset US-India ties.

'Indian strategic analysts who visualise an alliance of Asian democracies or conjecture a US-India axis patrolling the "global commons" are not seeing the writing on the wall -- that the number one priority for a highly focused leader like Mr Obama is going to be global issues such as trade balance and exchange rates, and climate change, which are of immense concern to his agenda of regenerating the ailing American economy,' Bhadrakumar wrote recently.

'Obama would like to know how India sees its interests and explore if tangible benefits can be derived to generate new jobs in America. Trust an extraordinarily cerebral mind like Obama to be able to comprehend the meaning of India's rise. That he empathises with India is not in doubt, but these are hard times,' Bhadrakumar wrote.

Behind closed doors, many senior Americans businessmen have been complaining about the slow bureaucracy and corruption issues involved in big-ticket business deals in India.

A senior director of a multinational corporation, who is also a member of the US-India Business Forum, said, "US industry is watching closely the cases of Vedanta, Videocon and Cairn–Vedanta shares transfer. In India, the Congress party is also divided on development issues and their approaches."

"Before his visit," Chandra said, "Obama has said that India is the cornerstone of US policy in Asia. I am sure he will fine-tune his statement on India's position in Asia and send the message to India's neighbours. But, at same time both India and America don't want to be seen as an anti-China cartel."

When asked about the China factor figuring in the Singh-Obama talks, Rao said India's importance goes beyond South Asia. China is important, she said, and when friends like India and the US meet they will take up issues including China.

In the days leading up to Obama's visit, both India and the US carefully avoided the areas of differences or tried to downplay them and find new areas for convergence.

Rao said there would be plenty of development-related agreements on agriculture, space, health, and clean energy, which will impact Indian and American lives.

Both sides have agreed to start a global disease control centre. Next year there will be a global education summit. There is a likelihood of a commercial space-launch agreement.

Rao dodged a question on Obama's declining popularity within the US, pointing out instead that on the issue of relations with India, "there is bipartisan support" in Washington.

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Don't miss! Our coverage of the Obama visit

Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi