As America goes to polls on November 8 to elect its new president, who will, in all probability, take charge in January 2017, there are genuine concerns in India regarding the future of Indo-US ties and what will happen to the goodwill generated by the friendship between Prime Minister Narendra and President Barack Obama, who will quit the Oval Office in January 2017.
Given the uncertainties regarding the outcome of the US presidential polls, Indians seems to be divided over Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as to who will suit India's interest better.
Though Indo-US ties have seen a big transformation in recent years, Washington has had a not-so-pleasant relationship with New Delhi ever since we became a Republic in 1950. In early 1950s, India was largely dependent on America and Soviet Union for development loans. During this period the share of aid from US was nearly that from the USSR.
The Cold War led to the world getting aligned with either of the two power blocks - the former USSR (Warsaw Pact Nations) or the US-led Western Block (NATO member states), however, India chose to follow the policy of non-alignment and was instrumental in the formation of a new block - NAM - in 1961.
The coming years saw Pakistan becoming a close ally of America by signing the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO), while India went on to build strong strategic and military ties with Russia in order to maintain the power balance in the region.
The John F Kennedy administration was more generous towards India as it saw the latter as a potential counter-weight for China and openly supported New Delhi during the Sino-India War of 1962, calling it a ‘blatant act of aggression by Beijing’.
Significantly, the US, towards the end of the war, also flew in humanitarian and limited military hardware supplies for the Indian troops.
After the assassination of Kennedy in 1963, the Indo-US relationship gradually deteriorated under the Richard Nixon administration. During the 1971 Indo-Pak war, the US-led by President Richard Nixon even provided military and moral support to Pakistan.
Indo-US ties further declined after New Delhi conducted its first Nuclear test in 1974, the White House responded by imposing a ban on export of nuclear material to India. The US pointed out that India was not a signatory of Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.
However, when Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1980, the then US President, Ronald Regan, woke up to the importance of India and took some steps aimed at improving Indo-US ties, while also maintaining his nation’s good relations with Pakistan.
The US – with caution – began supplying military equipment, like super computers, night visions, radars, gas turbines for naval frigates and engines for India’s light combat aircraft.
Indo-US relationship touched a new low when the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government went ahead with a nuclear test in Pokhran in May 1998, which again saw the United States imposing economic sanctions on India, including cutting off all military, economic aid.
Since India at that time was not largely dependent on America for its economic needs, the sanctions had little impact on the country. Further, India’s growing economic clout and new global threat of terrorism compelled the US to adopt a policy of accommodation towards India, which saw the two sides transforming their estranged relations into a “strategic partnership”- marking a new shift in the Indo-US relationship.
In March 2000, US President Bill Clinton visited India during which the Indo-US Science & Technology Forum was established.
The period from 2001 to 2006, especially after the September 2001 attack on the World Trade Centre, saw the Indo-US relationship blossoming under the George Bush administration. The main areas of confluence were neutralizing Islamic extremism, energy security and fighting climate change.
Importantly, between 2004-2008, the bilateral trade between the two countries also tripled.
Indo-US ties during 2004-2014 UPA I & II
Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh-led UPA government, during 2004-2014, took several steps aimed at further improving the bilateral ties between India and the United States. The two sides took several bilateral initiatives in areas such as countering terrorism, disarmament and non-proliferation, trade and economic relations, energy security, climate change, agriculture, education, health and science and technological development.
The year 2008 saw a new turning point in the Indo-US ties when two nations signed the historic Indo-US Civil Nuclear Agreement, called the 123 Agreement.
In November 2010, President Barack Obama visited India and addressed a joint session of Indian Parliament and backed India’s bid for permanent seat in the UN Security Council.
Indo-US ties after 2014 General Elections
In 2014, the NDA led by Narendra Modi came to power by defeating Congress-led UPA in the General Elections by a big margin. Narendra Modi, who was boycotted by the US leaders for almost a decade and denied a visa by them due to his alleged role in 2002 Gujarat riots, became Prime Minister – much to the discomfort of the White House.
Considering Modi’s growing international clout and his stature as the Prime Minister of world’s largest democracy, the Barack Obama administration realised that the old formula and stereotypes will not work if it has to deepen ties with India.
Consequently, President Obama congratulated Modi over his electoral victory and invited him to visit the US. In 2014, from September 27–30, PM Modi travelled to the US during which he addressed the United Nations General Assembly and a huge gathering of the Indian American community at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
In Washington DC, besides having a one-to-one meeting with President Obama, PM Modi also met the CEOs of top American companies and invited them to invest in India and support his ambitious ‘Make In India’ initiative.
The personal bond between two leaders grew stronger when Modi invited Obama be the Chief Guest at the Republic Day Parade – the first US President to have got the honour - in New Delhi in January 2015.
PM Modi again travelled to the US in 2015 to attend UN General Assembly meeting where he had bilateral discussions with President Obama. A year later, PM Modi visited America again during which he addressed a joint session of the US Congress.
Indo-US Defence Agreements
With India fast emerging as a dominant factor in the Asia and a potential counter-weight to China, the two sides signed the Defense Technology and Trade Initiative - an undertaking aimed at reducing the barriers to defence technology cooperation and trade. The two sides are also engaged in talks for supply of F-16 and F-18 fighter jets for the Indian Air Force.
Importantly, the US has now surpassed Russia as India’s number 1 defence supplier. India has signed or has given in-principle nod to the signing of major defence deals with the US like ‘M-777’ Ultra-light Howitzers, ‘Javilin’ Anti-Tank Guided Missiles, UAVs, 'Apache' Attack & 'Chinook' Heavy- Lift Helicopters etc.
Besides, the Modi government has given an in-principal nod to three crucial bilateral agreements — the Logistic Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMA), the Communication and Information Security Memorandum (CISMOA) and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA).
Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton
Indians largely see Donald Trump as an unknown, untested entity whose foreign policies and capabilities are yet to be ascertained. The Indian government has had a very limited or almost negligible interaction with the business tycoon-turned politician. Republican presidential nominee Trump came to India sometime back to inaugurate the Trump Tower in Mumbai but beyond that he has had limited association with India.
On the other hand, Democrat Hillary Clinton, the former US first lady and US Secretary of State, is a familiar face for the Indian establishment. Clinton also comes across as a strong woman, moderate, pragmatist and progressive leader. As a result of this, Hillary has an advantage over Trump and more acceptability in India – a strong reason why the US India-American community seen is also seen as being inclined towards her.
While some have welcomed Trump's tough stand against terrorism and Islamic State, his statements on H1B visas and immigration have created panic in India.
If Trump continues to take a hard line on immigration after being elected then that could have a negative impact on the Indian software industry.
Till now, the Republican nominee's rhetoric is loaded with protectionist, isolationist agendas – Trump has even said that the international trade system is rigged against the US.
So, naturally, Trump’s election as President will have implications for India as well as the global economy.
If Trump becomes President, he could well disrupt the power balance in Asia, shifting it in favour of India.
China and Pakistan have long viewed the US as a cash cow: China by running a huge trade surplus ($366 billion in 2015); Pakistan by playing a double game, soaking up US aid (more than $30 billion since 2002), while pretending to fight radical Islam. Trump, through his recent statements, has thrown enough signs that, as President, he would certainly slash the cash flow to both countries.
Pakistan, for that matter, is set to be a big loser in a post-election shake-up of US intervention in Asia. In one of his statements, Trump has called Pakistan "probably the most dangerous country" and has said that "you have to get India involved; India is the check to Pakistan... I would start talking at that level very quickly".
This statement is a sharp reversal of tone from US presidential candidates toward India-Pakistan relationship, considering the fact that nearly eight years ago presidential candidate Barack Obama had hinted at the US mediating in Kashmir imbroglio.
However, after remaining President for two straight terns, Barack Obama has avoided talk of mediation and stuck to the long-standing Washington stand of simply encouraging the two sides to "improve their bilateral relations". Now, Trump has tossed that script and described Pakistan as a problem, and India as the solution to that problem – which is indeed a big insult for Islamabad.
The US has lost five million manufacturing jobs over the past 15 years, while China has seen rapid growth in its manufacturing sector over the same period. A President Trump will be electorally committed to bringing a material number of lost manufacturing jobs back to the US - the only way he can do so will be to offset China's labour cost advantage in manufacturing with a combination of tariff and non-tariff barriers.
Such a move, in early 2017, would make China jittery as by then its decades-long credit-fuelled investment boom will most likely bust.
So in the event of Trump’s election, China's loss will definitely be India's gain.
As India awaits the outcome of the US Presidential race, it knows clearly from where to start in case Hillary Clinton wins. In the event of a Trump presidency, New Delhi will surely have to test new waters and move forward carefully.
Also, since President Barack Obama’s affirmation in 2010 that “the United States looks forward to a reformed UN Security Council that includes India as a permanent member”, there has been no progress relating to the UNSC expansion. Due to this, India’s desire to join the UNSC still remains a distant dream. New Delhi will have to assess how soon its UNSC dream can turn into a reality under the new US dispensation led by either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.