During those remarkable years when Indian students were flocking to U.S. colleges, acquiring skills and reputations that eventually made them the highest earning ethnic group in the U.S, the two governments were doing their damnest to destroy the relationship. Many in both governments still don’t know any better, although it is the government in Delhi that is drifting closer into dangerous waters, led by a captain without the strength to curb odd ministers running their own foreign policy. The reasons the U.S. government didn’t like Delhi in those years lay chiefly in Indira Gandhi’s bizarre attempt to enter the nuclear club in 1974, and of course the CIA’s mischievous assessment that India was a Soviet ‘ally’. The end of the cold war and George Bush’s nuclear deal should have flattened those hurdles, once and for all. The hurdles are gone, but ending a bad relationship is not the same as getting into a new one. Manmohan Singh’s courageous and tenacious performance in Parliament on the nuclear deal saw Indian political leadership at its best. The U.S. government’s worldwide arm twisting to get India the NSG waiver, demonstrated what a super power can do, when it stretches itself for a friend. Since then it’s been all downhill.
France and Russia have got the civil nuclear contracts, after the U.S. did the heavy lifting. Russia has been given the fifth generation fighter contract after the U.S. promised 100 GE 414 jet engines for India’s collapsed jet fighter project. Despite the government’s directive to all ministries to crank up the agenda for President Obama’s visit, a huge hole was created by Antony’s Ministry of Defense which is facing in a different direction. The Ministry believes that the Communications Security Agreement (CISMOA) is a devious and deliberate American plot to eavesdrop on Indian communications, as if the National Security Agency in Washington has no other means to achieve the same objective. The Logistics Agreement would have been hugely beneficial to the navy and air force to extend their reach, using U.S. assets worldwide. It was an agreement that the PLA would have paid billions for. Reciprocal facilities for unpopular U.S. wars could always have been turned down in special circumstances as Turkey did in 2002.The Indian MOD has shut the Indian armed forces off from advanced world technology by refusing to consider both. The U.S. President’s visit was eventually carried off by President Obama and Michelle Obama’s hugely effective public posturing, and some heroic behind the scene actions by corporate India and the U.S.-India CEO’s forum. Even so, the French and the Chinese signed an equal if not larger clutch of business deals with India. The President of the U.S. has a limited charter, unlike New Delhi, where there are Ministers for Coal, steel, petroleum, water, fertilizer, shipping, airlines, roads etc. So New Delhi has not yet grasped the essentials of the new world that it has to live in.
China has overtaken Japan as the world’s second wealthiest nation. Its GDP is $ 5 trillion against India’s $1.3 trillion. By 2020 both GDPs could quadruple, thereby increasing the gap from $ 3.7 to 14.8 trillion (India $ 5.2 trillion vs. China $ 20 trillion). From dams on the Brahmaputra to the Tibetan border, to the Indian Ocean – China’s power and arrogance is something India will have to live with. But how?
Will we see another Krishna Menon cozying upto China, our great Asian ‘brother’, when eventually Nehru had to write to JFK for 12 squadrons of fighter bombers, ‘flown by U.S. pilots’? There are even more unanswered questions. Will the Indian Air Force and Indian Navy sit out a Himalayan war, as they did in 1962 in the collective belief that their contribution to help the army could only make things worse? We don’t need an alliance with the US. We don’t need to get into a fight with China- not now, not ever. But how do we avoid one? Only by playing to China’s belief in Real Politik. To do that, India needs the U.S’ world class defense technology. Israel, France and Russia are alright for the middle level stuff. To get the world class stuff from the U.S. we need a relationship run by governments. The U.S.-India business councils, the Indian-Americans and the CEO’s forum can only do so much. India’s MOD cannot run its own foreign policy either.