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Indo-US relations: A reality check for both the sides
I distinctly and clearly remember Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh while replying to a question about ‘high point’ of his almost a decade in office during his press conference on 03 January, 2014, said that signing up of the 123 Civilian Nuclear Agreement with the US was that very one.

I was a bit surprised. He could have said right to information (RTI) act, anti-corruption bill, food security bill or direct cash transfer scheme as his governments’ biggest achievement. In election year it would have appeared politically correct statement too.

However, Dr. Singh chose otherwise. But why did he do so? Was he expecting the US President Barack Obama to react on his words and favor India out-of-proportion and out-of-the-way? I do not think that President Obama is that simple a person or that pro-Indian as President. May be this is mere over-speculation by me but the arguments that follow would not be affected if I go wrong about this observation.

Now the US Ambassador to India Nancy Powell has recently resigned. Some media reports suggested it as a routine long-deliberated move, some said that Ms. Powell did not have keenness or even ability to deal with India’s future probable leaders; Narendra Modi and even with regional satraps, and some attributed her resignation as a fallout to Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade’s case.

The news was so catchy that it attracted the attention of even mainstream American newspapers. According to the New York Times (NYT), the bonhomie between the US and India was over and diplomats from both the countries were fighting over petty issues. Some unnamed Indian officials complained to the NYT that Obama administration does not give India its due importance.

Now since the Indo-US relationship are truly strained it is the time that concerned people ponder about what is wrong with the two nations. First of all Indian diplomats need to set their priorities straight. What do they expect from the American diplomats and other officials? Do they seek alliance, or equality, or privileges of ally without being one?

The simple answer to these queries is that the US would never treat India as its equal during closed door negotiations, no matter how deep and wide its engagement with India become. The US does not usually accord that status to any country in private places, including to the UK. Therefore, Indians should not mind that much. But they do and this has to do with the ‘caste fixation’ of Indian diplomats. Yeah, I know they will never admit it and many may not even be conscious of that.

The fact is that many Indians speak, read and write very good English. In fact, outside the Anglican world it is India where the level of knowledge of English is so high. Many Indians are very talented and are truly globally known. In India many Indians are as wealthy as many Americans and Europeans are and their numbers is significant too.

As a matter of fact Indian consumer market is 300 million plus in size and ideally speaking, that should matter a lot to Western companies. Indian officials want equivalent treatment vis-à-vis American officials because of these economic realities. And they do get many times though not always.

The major reason? Because, there is other India which is completely different from the first one. That India is mostly inefficient and imperfect, many times appearing unrelated to the first one and even ugly. Now if it were a matter of treating 5-7% of Indians as their equals the West may not mind much. They can, not because the Westerners are very generous people out-of-the-way, but because their economic selfishness would compel them to do so.

Now if it were for the West to contribute to the bottom 20% of Indian population’s some help they can easily do the same as well. But then Indian government represents the whole country and obviously the Federal government would see Indian government in its fullest context.

And here begins the problem. Indian bureaucrats because of their excellent English, education and many times because of their good family background may want their counterparts in America to treat India as equal to that of the US. In all honesty such is caste aspiration in the truest sense. Now may American officials loath the very same caste system. This is a completely erroneous judgment on their behalf too. The elitism in India matter a lot and it helps both extremes: India’s poor and Western economic and other interests. Therefore, the US officials should not keep any negative opinion about either the caste system or about the dominant people of the nation. They should learn the habit to tolerate such a contradictory huge existence of inequality, a big part of which exists in their own country too.

Now India can complain that the US treats China as its equal. May be it does so in public but I am sure not in private. The Sino-American cannot be judged by sitting in the South Block in New Delhi. They require non-emotive objective judgment from the Washington, DC and Beijing. Please do not tell me that India has huge embassies there. India can say, fine, why does not the US do the same with India? The answer to this query is that India is not China; neither that vast nor that homogeneous, even if it is agreed that Mongoloid, Indo-Aryan and Dravidian people have almost same intelligence. Frankly speaking, India is not that productive neither that efficient even though China and India are corrupt to the same order.

Now all need to understand that 123 civilian nuclear Agreement that the US has signed up in 2008 with India has the same meaning as it had with China in 1996. The US wanted to contain coerciveness of Russian and Chinese states on nuclear and missile proliferation in the conflicting and competing high conscious era and that is why it signed an agreement each with both the countries to help them develop derivative capabilities as an incentive against proliferation.

Sure, India is not proliferators of nuclear and missile technologies but in order to get critical strategic technologies it need to listen to American non-proliferation concerns: may be capping and freezing of its nuclear and missile programs. Obviously, China was nuclear have since the signing of the international treaties on nuclear and missile capabilities and therefore, the US could not have put such conditions on it. But in case India can get away with the duo requirements, as many Indians including media here believe, then it is so far so good. All Indians should be happy about it, if and when it happens.

Now let’s discuss another critical issue of India becoming an ally of the US. To be realistic India any time soon would not like to be one. But without becoming ally it cannot expect the ally’s favors that the US grants. Moreover, if it chooses to be not so, then it would loose the option of containing China effectively. The US would loose a lot on the same count as well.

On the issue of the US lobbying to establish a naval base in India’s East Coast, the fact is that there are cultural and perspective differences between the two nations. What is neo-imperialism or continuity of European colonialism from Indian perspective is a normal thing for the US. The Pentagon has military bases all around the world; in the North Asia, the South East Asia, the West Asia, Africa, Latin America, Australia, other than having too many of those in Europe. The US is not reported to be destabilizing most of the time in those places. But sure, India can easily reject that lobbying pressure.

The fact is that India is too important a country for any nation to ignore. In fact, it is a very important country in Asia and it deserves due attention and high priority in the matters of the White House and the State Department. The US, generally speaking, does not accord that status to India and that is its fault. But India too has to be reasonable and realistic in its expectations from the US. The fact is no racial arrogance, negligence and mishandling should be supported in any diplomatic relations. The same must be true about the Indo-US relations. Let both sides learn and unlearn few things and make the relationship a truly defining partnership of this century.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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