The United States of America views India as a vast market and potential counterweight to China’s assertiveness in Asia. India has already enhanced its engagement in the East by turning its ‘Look East Policy’ into ‘Act East Policy.’ It has been successful in getting the parental group together starting with Australia, Japan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and now the US, which it calls a partnership for economic development, industrialization and trade.
In September 2014, Chinese President, Xi Jinping, had paid a three-day visit to India which focused on ramping up bilateral trade and investment. Both the states had signed 12 agreements which were considered landmark bilateral deals. Xi Jinping had also pledged to support India for a permanent membership in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).
Similarly, during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annual summit visit to India in December, 2014, both the states had signed a series of major energy agreements. Putin had confirmed Russian support to India in defence and energy sector by promising that Russia will help India build at least 10 more nuclear reactors.
Currently, President Barack Obama’s visit to India comes after Secretary of State, John Kerry’s, visit two weeks before. His visit to India is for India’s Republic Day celebrations. However, this is the first time India has invited an American president to be chief guest at its Republic Day and this is the first time an American president will visit India twice while in office. So the visit is seen as an important step in strengthening the Indo-US relations. Mr. Narendra Modi after assuming the premiership of India in May, 2014 has termed India-US as the “natural allies” by stating the US as India’s “natural global partner.”
Both the leaders have agreed to a number of financing initiatives aimed at helping India increase its use of renewable energy including a deal aimed at nuclear trade and a step to strengthen an enduring strategic partnership. In 2008, India and the US had signed a controversial “Indo-US Civil Nuclear Deal” that had made India the sixth “legitimate” atomic power with major P5, namely the US, Russia, the UK, France and China. However, the deal had failed to deliver on a promise of business for US companies because of India’s reluctance to shield suppliers from liability. The recent step is the implementation of that civil nuclear energy deal.
The US over the last decade and a half has supported India. India provides a huge market for American investment while the US presence in Asia provides stability and certainty to India. India’s strategic potential in the region presents a balance against China and a rebalancing force to the Asia-Pacific. Modi’s visit to US and Australia, and visits to India by Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin and now, Barack Obama strengthen Modi’s position at home and his image abroad. The US National Security Advisor, Mr. Tom Donilon, had already stated it in 2013, “we don’t just accept India’s rise, we fervently support it.”
However the other side of the picture is quiet gloomy. From the past several months, India has been hostile to its nuclear armed neighbour, Pakistan. The firing by Indian forces on the working boundary between India and Pakistan has killed several people, all on the Pakistani side. Pakistan has requested for an inspection by the UN Military Observers Group which has been rejected by India. India has also halted the peace dialogues with Pakistan. What Pakistan is hoping from Barack Obama’s visit is the reduction of tensions in the region if President Obama asks India to revive pre-existing Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) with Pakistan. But Modi government’s belligerent postures towards Pakistan will not only destabilize an already volatile region but will also pose a threat to India’s advance.
Besides, India’s major challenges come from within. According to the EFA Global Monitoring Report, 2013-14, India has the largest population of illiterate adults in the world (about 287 million).Also, the incumbent Indian government has come under fire from the human-rights’ groups over the issue of forced conversion of Muslims under the “Ghar Wapsi Programme”.The track record of BJP over the communal issue is not praiseworthy and no matter how many alliances and pacts Indian government makes, It cannot advance by alienating its 180-million Muslim population. In addition to this, India’s biggest internal security threat emerges not its North Eastern states. The Maoists/Naxalites have established a de facto control over a vast territory covering 92,000 sq km area, called the “Red Corridor” by the Indian media from Nepal to Tamil Nadu. Hence, in the light of the challenges, it will be too early to say that India is ready to assert its position as a regional leader. But at the same time, the attention being given to India by some of the world powers can also serve as bellwether for shining India.
“Pakistan Observer” Daily, January 27, 2015
Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the writer and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.