There has been a tremendous amount of euphoria generated by US President Barack Obama's recent presence in India. But people expecting a sea change in Indo-US ties due to the state visit are likely to be disappointed.
Obama said that India deserved a permanent seat in the UN Security council. Saying that does not mean it will automatically happen. Reform in the Security Council is a controversial issue. Germany, Japan and Brazil are the other members seeking a permanent seat. There is also talk of giving a seat to a country in either Africa or from the Muslim-majority countries.
At the beginning of the debate, the US had made it clear that India couldn't get a permanent seat with a disputed Kashmir. This stand became clear when the US vetoed Shashi Tharoor in the 2007 campaign for UN Secretary General. If a similar vote came up today, things wouldn't change much. The Kashmir problem is nowhere near resolution.
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The second irritant is Pakistan. Despite Obama's strong admonition of Pakistan over terrorism, the US and Pak will continue to remain strong allies and aid will keep flowing. As far as global politics is concerned, Pak remains more important than India for the US.
Obama said a lot of great things in all his speeches here, but going by his promises in the US presidential polls that catapulted him into power, it is not given that any of them will be translated into action.
Pre-1991, India and Russia were allies. Russia and America were enemies. That's why Indo-US ties would always reach a roadblock. Post-1991, there has been a natural thawing of ties, but they too will meet certain deadlocks.
Priority No. 1: International Trade
A catch line of the 1992 presidential campaign was: It's the economy stupid! It always is. India is not even in the list of America's Top 10 trading partners. To put things in perspective, the volume of trade between US and China is about ten times that of with India. That's a huge gap. Even when one looks at the rest of Asia: Japan and South Korea are way ahead as trade partners. Neighbours Canada and Mexico are also right on top.
When one goes back into history and sees the GATT and World Trade Organization talks, then India has taken the US head on over a number of issues.
The US is the biggest exporter of arms in the world and India the biggest importer. There should be a huge opportunity there itself. But historically, India has been getting its arms from Russia and also relies on the European arms market. That has been a big irritant and doesn't look to change much even if we do ink a few defence deals here and there.
As far the historic nuclear deal goes, there is no stopping India from going to Europe to set up its power plants. That just might happen. For example, France already gets most of its electrical power from N-plants and is a good bet.
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Priority No. 2: Gathering Allies
India will never be an official ally of the US. That's a huge huge roadblock. When the US invaded Iraq in 2003, 45,000 UK troops joined in. When the US wanted to take on Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, Pakistan gave support of all kinds including defence co-operation and bases. It has also allowed (even though it has protested) drone attacks that have killed civilians.
You can't imagine India doing any of that. In fact when there is even talk of joint Indo-US defence exercises, alarm bells start ringing all over the country.
If India won't attack another country along with the US and not allow troops on its soil (as dozens of countries in the world have done), then why will the US take an active interest in India?
The Indo-US buzz
In fact the Indo-US buzz has been created by two things.
One is IT. India and America have both emerged as the two leading IT powers of the world. America has opened shops in India and there has been a great deal of outsourcing. But now India is being seen as a threat due to that and outsourcing is a big election issue.
Going into the future, if India does manage to produce a giant like Microsoft, Apple, Intel or Google, then it will be in direct competition with corporate America.
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The other thing is the fact that Indian Americans are doing so well. Imagine having two PIO Governors! It was unthinkable 10 years ago. They are also doing well in other walks of life like business and films. But having a strong Indian American lobby will not be enough unless some fundamental issues are sorted out first.
If India cannot be a major trading partner and refuses to be an official ally, then for the US, India will remain just another country.
Let's face it, Pakistan is much more precious to US than India and will continue to do so for quite some time.