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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

In 1954, Dulles signed an arms pact in Rawalpindi that signalled a decisive shift in American policy

Email Author Home Views editorials Big Idea Hindustan Times January 01, 2008
Unlike so many of my compatriots, I am not much exercised about the fate of the Indo-US nuclear agreement...However, the controversy over the Indo-US deal might be used as a convenient peg to ponder, more broadly and widely, the relations between the world’s two most interesting countries; interesting because of their size, because of their diversity — ecological, social, religious — and because of the rich variety of their cultural and aesthetic traditions — from jazz and Hollywood on the one side to classical music and Bollywood on the other. What were, are, and might be the relations between the world’s most powerful and most populous democracies?
At Indian independence, the signs were propitious. Through World War II, the Americans, and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in particular, chastised Winston Churchill and the British government for not hastening the transfer of power to Indian hands. When, as Prime Minister of the newly-freed land, Jawaharlal Nehru made his first trip to the US in 1949, he went seeking, as it were, to win friends and influence people. His success in this regard was mixed. He impressed the intelligentsia and the liberal elite, but came across as arrogant and patronising to the mandarins of the State Department. Still, for the first few years of independence, India’s relations with the US were quite good, helped along with dollops of aid and the marked empathy with Indian aspirations of the American Ambassador in New Delhi, Chester Bowles.
Then, in 1953, a Republican entered the White House for the first time in two decades. On his own, President Eisenhower was not ill-disposed towards India, but his Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, was. Dulles was the coldest of the Cold Warriors, who demanded of America’s friends an unflinching support in its rivalry with the Soviet Union. This India was not willing to give, but Pakistan was.
In 1954, Dulles signed an arms pact in Rawalpindi that signalled a decisive shift in American policy. For the next four decades, and more, Washington was much closer to Pakistan than to India. For brief periods in the early 1960s, and again in the late 1970s, there was a thawing of relations, with American Presidents and Indian Prime Ministers (Kennedy and Nehru in the first instance, Carter and Morarji Desai in the second) forging friendships. For the most part, however, Islamabad was Washington’s buddy in the subcontinent, just as India was the Soviet Union’s.
In 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed; the same year, the Indian economy began to liberalise. The ideological reasons for America to suspect India had gone away; meanwhile, strong material reasons for it to embrace India had arisen. The prospect of a growing market for American goods fostered a new-found respect for Indian democracy. Thus it was that when President Clinton came visiting in 2000, he spent five full days in India, but a mere five hours in Pakistan. The symbolism was not lost on either party. Clinton’s successor, George W. Bush, has cultivated even closer ties with India. Despite the occasional blather about outsourcing, across party lines, there is a growing consensus in Washington that India must become a close ally.
American scholar Denis Kux entitled his fine study of Indo-US relations up to the year 1991, Estranged Democracies. How dated that title looks now! That India and the US are as close as they are in 2008 would have inconceivable in 1958, or 1978, or even 1998. But should they, will they, come closer still?...
For too long were India and the US indeed ‘estranged democracies’. That they no longer suspect or distrust one another is a considerable advance. But now one needs, at least on the Indian side, some cold, hard thinking on how to take the relationship forward without turning friendship into subservience. Author, India after Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy

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