Barack Obama wins: What’s in it for us…

A wave of enthusiasm has accompanied the thumping victory of Barack Obama in the US Prez polls, but does India have an equal reason to cheer?

Akrita Reyar Now that the champagne popping sessions are over and street celebrations fizzled out, it’s time to wake up to reality. Never has been the exercise of exercising a ballot so held in anticipation, awe or as an apparatus of appropriating alteration as it did in the US. It threw out eight years of misery under George Bush; and brought in ‘hope’ for a race long oppressed. This sure credited a big party. But what now? And specifically what now for us in India? It may be a sobering thought. Plain speaking never helps. And I don’t want to talk about assessing realities in ‘Black’ and ‘White’ in a Barack Obama piece, but we can’t run away from it. We must come to terms with the fact that, heck, he is the President of the US and it is its interest alone that shall drive him. His victory is indeed good news for the US. One cannot even begin to imagine what another four years under Bush would have meant. More economic woes, job cuts, bankruptcies and more bodybags from Iraq and Afghanistan. If there is a legacy US could well shed, and ASAP, it is that of the deep estrangement between it and the Muslim world. But think about it, and purely on selfish terms, Bush was perhaps the best US President for India. He did not just befriend Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, he de-hyphenated India-US relations from that of Pakistan, turned our two countries into strategic partners and made the nuclear deal a reality despite all odds. India without the US at the IAEA and especially NSG would have been made into salami, had China and some European countries had their way. If anyone, it is India that should say a big thank you to President Bush when he leaves the portals of the White House. In contrast the new Afro-American leader, with a more open disposition, is most likely to soothe at least some bruised relations with the Arab world. The man is at least willing to talk, even if the counterpart is Iran’s Ahmadinejad, and not just follow cow boy instincts of settling it over some target shooting tussle at a countryside bar. But when it comes to South Asia he will most likely carry the old Democrat mindset of seeing India and Pakistan in common light. His senior advisor during the campaign, Bruce Riedel has bunched Kashmir with Afghanistan and Palestine. This is dangerous. Obama himself made some noise about the need to resolve Kashmir issue to make South Asia a safer place. It is another issue that just after claiming a huge victory, he altered the statement calling it a bilateral problem and hoped a solution could be found. The upside is that he is more likely to adopt a policy of hot pursuit when it comes to tackling terror in the rugged terrains of Pakistani border areas. Fewer of these gun totting thugs there, means more peace here. His support for the Indo-US nuke deal cannot also absolve him of all blame, for he was the man behind those ‘killer amendments’ that nearly derailed a neatly wrapped deal. While his predecessor acknowledged and accepted India as a responsible nuclear power, Obama who has called nuclear non-proliferation a cornerstone of Democrat policy, will push hard for us to sign on the dotted line of the CTBT and the NPT agreements. This would not go down well with South Block for obvious reasons. Why would we want to be chained down again, when we have just been liberated from an archaic era of sanctions? Though Bill Clinton is touted as India’s best buddy and it is indeed to his credit that he removed our relations from the Cold War closet and laid the foundation for stronger Indo-US ties, what is equally true is that Democrat Presidents don’t go all the way. It was also he who signed restrictions against us soon after Pokharan II. Obama is also less liberal when it comes to shipping jobs overseas or granting H1B visas. He launched a belligerent attack on John McCain for going soft on outsourcing and has threatened disincentives for companies that looked for hiring abroad. This will spell bad news for our industry, especially in times like these. No reason to despair Is one being critical? No, just cautious. There are some positives signals too that are emanating from the Atlantic shores. Hillary Clinton, a close friend of India, is tipped to be the next Secretary of State. Obama would obviously have to take her opinion very seriously when it comes to dealing with the region. She is also well versed with the actualities in Pakistan and is less likely to be gullible to its take on playing victim. The new Vice President Joe Biden is a known friend of India and has stated that it is his dream to make the two countries closest partners by 2020. But again, to throw in a word of caution he had lambasted Bush for not checking the rise of Russia, China and India, and letting the world switch from unipolarity to one with multiple power points. Whether this was mere election rhetoric or hinted at a fifth column feeling, it is hard to tell. The President has also named Lawrence Summers as the chief White House economic advisor. Larry is known to have great regard for Dr Manmohan Singh and is well acquainted with his skills as an expert economist. Times have changed and undoubtedly the Democrat team would have to take into account the new global order, especially in the wake of the global financial meltdown. It can be said for sure that this would not be lost on so articulate a leader as Obama. Additionally, first hand handling of issues as the chief-in-charge sometimes forces one to shift perceptions or long-held positions. The geographical location of the country, its growing economic clout, commonalities of being democracies and plural societies will all shore up things in India’s favour. So while there is no need for dismay at the change of guard in Washington, India needs to display a good dose of prudence and a spark of intelligent diplomacy. Because with the victory party over, it’s hangover time. And it’s India which should not end up waking up with a headache.

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