US-India Relations after the Modi Visit
A decade back, US-India relations appeared finally to be ready to break from the traditional pattern of swinging between euphoria and exasperation. But over the last several years, that pattern re-emerged as both Washington and New Delhi busily dug their relationship into a hole. One state visit, even such a high-octane one as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s, cannot be expected to pull the two sides out of this hole, but it would be fair to say that the two sides have at least stopped digging. But there is hard work ahead and the outcome is by no means certain.
There is enough blame to go around for the state of the relationship, though New Delhi has to take a bigger share. Immediately after the US-India nuclear deal was concluded, the UPA government under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was in a hurry to distance itself from the US, frightened about the domestic political consequence of its closeness to Washington. What followed was India’s Nuclear Liability Bill (which essentially negated the key benefits of the US-India nuclear deal), its decision to reject American combat jets for the Indian Air Force, its abstention from the Libya vote in the UN Security Council, and a downgrading of military ties. On the US side, President Obama started out as other Democratic presidents have, wanting a special relationship with China and seeking to push a Kashmir negotiation between India and Pakistan, both key red flags for India. More fundamentally, Obama’s apparent desire to pull back from America’s global commitments led to concerns in Asia and in India about Washington’s dependability just as China was asserting itself in Asia – concerns that have yet to subside despite Obama’s Asia ‘pivot’ and ‘rebalancing’.