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'Obama's statement on religious freedom aimed at Narendra Modi govt'

Updated: Jan 30, 2015, 09:43 AM IST

US President Barack Obama's three-day India visit on the occasion of Republic Day was a significant step in bolstering Indo-US ties. Besides promising to cooperate with New Delhi on the terror front and boosting bilateral trade, Obama also announced support for India`s bid for permanent membership of the UN Security Council and said that America can be India's "best partner".

In an exclusive interview with Biplob Ghosal of Zee Media Corp, Dr Harsh V Pant, an expert on Indo-US ties, discusses the arithmetic of the relationship between India and the US.

Professor Harsh V Pant is an expert in international relations, with a focus on Asia-Pacific security issues, nuclear proliferation, South Asian security, and Indian foreign policy. Pant teaches at King's College London in International Relations in the Defence Studies Department.

Biplob: What are the major takeaways from Obama's high-profile India visit? Has it yielded anything substantive for New Delhi?

Pant: The most important takeaway is that New Delhi is finally shedding its inhibitions vis-à-vis developing a robust partnership with Washington. And the two states have started viewing their relationship in a larger strategic framework of the Asia-Pacific and the Indian Ocean region. The US has found in Modi an interlocutor who they believe can deliver. The resolution of the impasse over the nuclear liability is a clear indication that India is willing to take steps toward a strong relationship with the US. Movement on defence co-production and co-development is another significant development.

Biplob: During his speech at the Siri Fort Auditorium in New Delhi, the US President said that India will succeed as long it is not splintered on religious lines. What according to you was Obama's message exactly?

Pant: At one level, Obama's argument is understandable. Any serious observer of India would make this claim. However, given recent developments in India, Obama's statement could be viewed as being aimed at the Modi government.

Biplob: How should India engage with China and the US simultaneously?

Pant: India can engage with both states on the basis of pragmatism. After all, the US and China are also engaging with each other. Dealing with China and the US productively enhances India's diplomatic space to pursue its interests more productively with both.

Biplob: Do you think US’ support to India’s bid for entry into the UNSC is a counter to China’s rise?

Pant: American support for the Indian candidacy to UNSC is just a reflection of the changing global balance of power. But it is also a relatively cost-free option for the US as there is little likelihood of a change in the composition of the UNSC anytime soon.

Biplob: Recently, US Secretary of State John Kerry asked Pakistan to fight militant groups that threaten the interests of Afghanistan, India and the United States. How do you view this development?

Pant: This is significant. The US is now putting serious pressure on Pakistan to tackle militants aimed at India. Whether or not there is any change in the Pakistani policy remains to be seen. But the larger trajectory of America's South Asia policy is clear: Pakistan is becoming an increasingly marginal factor and India is assuming centrality.

Biplob: What should Indian administration do to attract more US investments?

Pant: The Indian government needs to rev up the reforms process. It has taken some initial steps to enhance Indian credibility in the eyes of global investors. But it will have to come up with a game-changing budget next month to really take India into the double-digit economic growth trajectory.