New Delhi: Relations between India and the US, which have been warming to each other, promised to become even warmer after US President Barack Obama cleared the entire backlog of Indian expectations in the course of a 35-minute speech to a joint session of India’s Parliament.
Not only did Obama promise to back India’s candidature for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and lift sanctions against dual use technology imports from the US, but he also censured Pakistan for harbouring terrorists within its borders and demanded that the masterminds of the 26/11 terror attacks on Mumbai be “brought to justice”.
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The price tag of this unexpected largesse—much of which is intangible—is that India will have to assume the responsibility of being a world power.
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That’s a challenging task, especially because the country has to address equally compelling issues such as pulling nearly 400 million people out of poverty, removing infrastructure bottlenecks to sustain a 10% growth trajectory, and containing Left-wing extremism.
Obama did not leave any room for doubt about this in a candid speech. “Let me suggest that with increased power comes increased responsibility,” he said and referred to India’s reluctance to follow through on UN-sponsored sanctions to prevent nuclear proliferation and promote democracy in countries such as Iran and Myanmar.
Taking a bow: US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Parliament on Monday.
“That question (whether India is ready to assume the responsibility) has to be judged at two levels. Are we doing a comparison with other countries which are already there? If we are, we are ready for that. But if we are talking about an ideal world order, no country can take that. Our response should be (to ask) whether you (the US) have been taking the responsibility?” said Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president, Centre for Policy Research, a New Delhi-based think tank.
Obama’s speech was an extension of statements made at the joint press conference earlier in the day.
While, he held back on his grand plan for India-US relations and on most of the important pronouncements (concerning the Security Council and Pakistan), he was categoric that there could be no intervention by the US in the dispute between Pakistan and India over Kashmir.
Almost on cue, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stepped in, emphasized that a “strong, peaceful and moderate” Pakistan was in India’s interest, and offered to resolve all outstanding issues including the “word K”.
However, he caveated this offer with India’s consistent stand that Pakistan has to deliver on its effort to curb terrorist activities—something that was echoed by Obama in Parliament. “Once Pakistan moves away from this terror induced coercion we will be happy to engage Pakistan to resolve all outstanding issues,” Singh said at the press conference.
Through the day, Obama reiterated that India’s moment had come and that its place at the global high table was only a logical corollary. “India is not emerging, it has emerged,” he said both at the conference and the speech in Parliament. He added that India’s standing as a “key actor” on the world stage would help the two countries?globally promote the common principles they stood for.
In a tribute to the growing maturity of the relationship, Obama and Singh agreed to disagree on key issues such as outsourcing. Still, both maintained that it was a “win-win” relationship.
President Obama, responding to a query on growing opposition to outsourcing in the US, admitted that he was “advertising” the deal that procured 50,000 jobs for a reason. “I want to tell the American people that they (India) just created these jobs and hence we should not resort to protectionism.”
Singh, who spoke after Obama, in his typical no-nonsense style, said: “As far as India is concerned, it is not in the business of stealing jobs from the US. Outsourcing has helped improve productive capacity and productivity in new industries (in the US).”
The abruptness of Obama’s offer to accept a slew of long standing Indian demands, while surprising to most, may, according to analysts, stamp Singh’s already enviable legacy as India’s third longest serving Prime Minister after Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi. This will happen especially if Obama delivers on his promise and Singh is able to get Pakistan back to the negotiating table.
Photographs by Jim Young/AP; Graphics by Uttam Sharma/Mint
Liz Mathew also contributed to the story