The new American President & the future of Indo-US ties

Updated: Nov 07, 2016, 14:57 PM IST

It is now just a matter of few days for the world to know as to who among the two – Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump – would finally control the reins of the world’s oldest democracy. America goes to polls on November 8; that would put an end to months’ long high-voltage electioneering in the country.

Although most polls have given an edge to Democrat Hillary Clinton over her Republican rival and business tycoon Donald Trump, but given the twists and turns in the game, the election may very well go down to the wire.

Hillary or Trump – whoever wins, the new US president will have a challenging task of strengthening an already shrinking national economy, creating more jobs, revitalizing the manufacturing sector, re-visting White House’ foreign policy, building new strategic partnership while also cementing time-tested ties with friendly states among other issues.

Though no one actually knows what’s going to happen on November 8, the question of the implication on India-US ties in being raised? Who among them is best suited for India being the big question.

Indo-US ties during the Cold War era

Though Indo-US ties have seen a big transformation in recent years, Washington has had a love-hate relationship with New Delhi ever since we became a Republic in 1950. 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).

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 USSR.

While Pakistan joined the US-led Western Block in 1954, India decided to adopt the policy of Non-Alignment and refrained from joining any of the power block, however, it was perceived to be leaning towards the Soviet Union.

Like it's today, the US then regarded India as a strategic partner and a counter-weight to the rise of Communist China. Probably that was the reason why the John F Kennedy administration openly supported India during the Sino-India War of 1962 and called it a ‘blatant act of aggression by China’.

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. Unlike his predecessor, Nixon established close ties with Pakistan and provided military and economic aid to it.

A major reason for this shift in US policy was that India had by then openly started demonstrating closeness with the former Soviet Union - while America also cultivated a close ally in Pakistan to counter the Soviet influence in the region.

During the 1971 Indo-Pak war, the US provided Pakistan with military and moral support. In fact the US even deployed its aircraft carrier ‘USS Enterprise’ in the Bay of Bengal transparently to intimidate India during the war for Bangladesh’s liberation.

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 ties post disintegration of USSR

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.

Consequently, the US voted for a UN Security Council Resolution condemning the tests and President Bill Clinton imposed economic sanctions on India, including cutting off all military, economic aid. Loans from American banks to Indian companies were also frozen.

However, these sanctions had little effect on the Indian economy as it had very limited trade with the US at that point of time. The US administration soon realised this and lifted the sanctions and followed it up with a visit by President Bill Clinton’s visit to India in March 2000.

During this visit, 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.

The result: in just four years from 2004 to 2008, bilateral trade between the two countries tripled.

Indo-US Civil Nuclear Deal

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. The relationship grew stronger with each passing year and by 2014 – Dr Manmohan Singh era - 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 Narendra Modi-Barack Obama friendship

Due credit should be given to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for taking a positive view of the efforts done by previous governments as he built on the goodwill by taking several calibrated efforts to transform India’s bilateral relations with the US

It is important to note here that the ‘new phase’ in the US–India relations began after US’ containment policies failed to isolate India following its 1998 nuclear tests. 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”.

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