India and America: Improving an Uneasy Relationship

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The world’s largest democracies got off on the wrong foot right from 1947, when India became an independent country. It was largely believed that it was due to American pressure that the Nobel committee didn’t award the Nobel Peace Prize to Mahatma Gandhi, the Champion of Non-Violence. The prize was handed to two relatively unknown Americans that year. Later in 1948, America supported Pakistan’s case on the Kashmir dispute at the United Nations. In fact the United States even sponsored a United Nations Security Council Resolution against India, which was only vetoed by the USSR.

It was American arms that Pakistan used against India in the 1965 war and again in 1971. An America-sponsored Security Council motion to declare India the aggressor in the Bangladesh Liberation War was vetoed by the USSR. The American Seventh Fleet would have surely attacked India in 1971, if it weren’t for Soviet pressure. Previously classified information reveals that the US was even considering cutting off diplomatic relations with India during the 1971 war and use Pakistan’s help to get closer to China.

While India officially stayed non-aligned during the cold war-era, Pakistan’s membership with SEATO and closeness to America pushed India to signing the 20-year friendship treaty with the Soviet Union.

In 1985, the then-Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi made a quick visit to Moscow after a Washington trip to explain the reasons of his visit to Mikhail Gorbhachev. The global equation has changed a lot since those days. There were two main factors that set the way for a thaw in relations between the two countries: Indian immigration to the United States and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

India changed its traditional cautious stand towards America after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 1992, India even established diplomatic relations with Israel. After India liberalised its economy, the American business lobby, pushed for better relations with India. After all, with a middle-class population of over 400 million, India was too large a market to ignore for American businesses. America is now India’s largest trading partner.

The first thaw in India-US relations took place after President Jimmy Carter’s visit in the late 70s. President Reagan also took the initiative in improving Indo-US ties and 1985 was declared the year of India in America. A US Congressional India-Caucus was formed around that time. The growing Indian-American community, which now numbers almost 2 million, has developed tremendous economic and political clout. It however, wasn’t until Bill Clinton visited India that the two countries started looking at each other as friends.

Post-September 11th, America finally recognised India’s terrorism threat and started pressuring Pakistan to clamp down on terrorist activities on it soil. It is widely believed that it was American pressure that made India’s former-Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee extend his “hand of friendship to Pakistan”.

India and America do have to an extent a convergence of interests. For the relationship to reach the next level, it is the very areas where the countries have common interests that must be used as a starting point. Both countries face the threat of terrorism and the groups that target India and America might be different, but they do have common benefactors. Cooperation with America against terrorists doesn’t mean that India dance to America’s tunes. No one is even hinting that India should send troops to Iraq. Let America dig itself out of the mess it created. However, sharing of intelligence is of prime importance. The Mossad’s intelligence reports have been used by the Indian Army to foil several potential terrorist strikes. There’s no reason why Indian and American intelligence agencies can’t work together.

The more India progresses economically and the more influential India becomes globally, the more America will start viewing India as a threat the way it does China. It’s very unlikely that America will ever support India’s Permanent Membership to the United Nations Security Council. At the same time, with the “old school” Congress party back in power in India, the US will be vary of Russia’s continued proposal of a Russia-China-India axis to balance the unipolar world.

More than 40% of all IT workers and around 35% of all Doctors in the US are Indians. Add to this the fact that America issues around two hundred and fifty thousand green cards a year to Indians and its obvious why Washington’s India policy has undergone a paradigm shift. Another fascinating angle has been added to the India-America relationship. The strong Jewish lobby in America has been encouraging better Indo-US ties. With India’s ever growing cooperation and friendship with Israel, Washington’s South Asia policy should be favourable to New Delhi.

New Delhi’s point of view is very clear. India. As long as Washington sees India as a major global player and is willing to work with India as an equal partner, there is no reason why the Indo-US relationship shouldn’t continue to progress.

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