Voices Saturday, April 18, 2015 - 05:30
And what if we ask the question the other way around – what will Hillary Clinton and the United States of America gain from India if she gets the world’s most powerful job?   A lot has been written in the Indian media ever since the 67-year-old Clinton announced her decision to run for president. In our enthusiasm we have written about people of Indian origin in her campaign team and her love for India. Clinton has travelled to India in many avatars – as a first lady, then as a senator and finally recently as secretary of state in the Obama administration. It has all been warm and fuzzy and all the right noises have been made and photographs have been taken. She loves India’s vibrant colours, the Taj Mahal and the power which she saw in sections of Indian women (handicrafts sector mainly). She has also been to Mother Teresa’s orphanages in Calcutta and bought reams of Indian silk. She loves Indian food and has been spotted in posh Indian restaurants in New York. It is also a sign of breathless reporting which sees strategy and vision in everything the Clintons – mother, father and daughter – have done in India.   Here’s the not so good news. If Clinton becomes the first US female president, India will not be a priority as it is neither an irritant nor a threat. It may be an ally against Pakistan which will then feed into Washington's old story of parity between India and Pakistan with all that entails diplomatically and militarily. At worst, India will be a back-office, at best a strategic spot to further US interests in the Indian Ocean region right up to Australia. On her agenda will be China, Russia, the doddering House of Saud, the newly-opened lines with Cuba, the newly-concluded nuclear talks with Iran, a belligerent Israel and the quintessential backbone of any foreign policy – trade. On that score, India is a huge opportunity.   Clinton will inherit a strong American economy which has bounced back in the last quarter of 2014 and where energy dependence is a thing of the past but where the student-loan crisis looms large and human rights issues compete with xenophobia and immigration. Unemployment has been at a steady 5.5 percent but she will also inherit a restive America Inc keen to do business with India and calling for economic sanctions via the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and other trade agreements. Above all else, the enormous task of proving herself as the first female president of the country will ensure a high premium on capacities and time however sharp and steady they are.   To be fair to Clinton, she has walked that extra mile for India. As secretary of state she has weighed in favour of re-balancing American foreign policy by strengthening ties with India. As a senator, she has co-chaired the Senate India Caucus. She has supported the US-India civil nuclear deal (Bush administration initiative). In the oft-quoted vision speech she made in Chennai in 2011 where she said the time has come for India to lead.   “Much of the history of the 21st century will be written in Asia which, in turn, will be influenced by the partnership between the US and India and its relationship with neighbours,” she said.   Whose neighbours? India has two hostile neighbours - Pakistan and China – but Washington sees Beijing, not Islamabad as a threat. It is all very well to Pakistan it cannot keep snakes in its backyard and not expect to be bitten, but that is more a speech writer’s prowess and less a foreign policy statement. The real action will come when Washington pulls the plug on aid, especially military aid, to Pakistan, something about which there is not even a whimper. Compare this to all the boots on the ground of the NATO Alliance in Ukraine. The two issues are not comparable some would say, but no two acts of injustice rarely are.     In her memoir “Hard Choices” she wrote about India. “Having another large democracy with a full seat at the table in the region could help encourage more countries to move toward political and economic openness, rather than follow China’s example of autocratic state capitalism.” If China were to become a democracy tomorrow, where would India figure?   Tucked in the Chennai speech (which many believe was her public framing of how she saw India) was language which spoke about the “New Silk Road” vision aimed at promoting regional and economic integration to bring Kabul back on track. Guilty or gambling, we will never know, but the pull out of international troops from Afghanistan is going to make things for India even difficult in the short and medium term. For example where is the enormous cache of armaments heading to? What about Syria – where is that going? Expert opinion has it that Clinton is likely to be more sympathetic to India as she has travelled in the country, but diplomacy and economics is not about charity or travelogues. Historically India has always done better under a Republican government in USA. The Democrats’ view has largely been throw a big party and that will take care of the rest in India. This is an oversimplification but not far from reality. But, the world is no longer the same. India is no longer the same. It is today a massively ambitious poor country, in that order. That is a reality Clinton – if she makes it – will undoubtedly encounter.