IN­DIA-U.S. RE­LA­TIONS HAVE COME ALONG AWAY

But doubts about In­dia-US ties have emerged fol­low­ing Trump’s sur­prise elec­tion vic­tory

New Straits Times - - Opinion - MAHENDRA VED ma­hen­draved07@gmail.com The writer, NST's New Delhi cor­re­spon­dent, is the pres­i­dent of the Com­mon­wealth Jour­nal­ists As­so­ci­a­tion 2016-2018 and a Con­sul­tant with Power Pol­i­tics monthly mag­a­zine

THE big, fat Amer­i­can wed­ding dream of many an In­dian groom or bride, mainly in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy pro­fes­sion­als and those work­ing for multi­na­tional cor­po­ra­tions, has taken a hit from United States Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and his im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy.

Mat­ri­mo­nial web­site Shaadi.com, much re­lied on by the In­dian di­as­pora, re­ports a 25 per­cent slump since Novem­ber, when Trump was elected the pres­i­dent.

The “Trump slump” ac­cel­er­ates the global trend, where the world be­comes less global and more pro­tec­tive of “na­tional in­ter­ests”.

Add to this the threat to life. Three at­tacks — in a span of 10 days this month — are sus­pected to be racially mo­ti­vated.

Among the vic­tims was a Sikh man shot at and in­jured near Seat­tle while wash­ing his car. With a beard and tur­ban, Sikhs are of­ten mis­taken for Arabs and have faced at­tacks in the US since 9/11.

Equally heartrend­ing was the killing of Srini­vas Kuchib­hotla, a techie work­ing in Kansas. Af­ter public protests in Kansas, the State Depart­ment ex­pressed con­cerns and Trump, too, made a ref­er­ence.

Some In­dian Amer­i­cans are now forced to ad­vise the com­mu­nity to speak only English in public places. This has never hap­pened be­fore.

“Every­body says he is vis­it­ing. But, we are sure we will meet next week, or next month” was how I was met three decades ago by In­di­ans in the US, some of them Amer­i­can cit­i­zens, others green card hold­ers or hope­fuls.

The green card was much cov­eted then; it still is. There were half a mil­lion In­di­ans in the US then. To­day, there are more than three mil­lion, and the num­ber would have grown but for the new re­stric­tions.

In­di­ans were pre­ferred for a long time for the H-1B visa be­fore the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion im­posed re­stric­tions. Others may be worse off, but that is no con­so­la­tion.

In­dian mi­grants be­gan go­ing to the US as early as 1820. The surge came in the 1990s, mak­ing them the sec­ond largest im­mi­grant group in the US af­ter Mex­i­cans, and ahead of those from China, the Philip­pines and Viet­nam.

Over this long pe­riod, the naive ABCD — the Amer­i­can-born con­fused desi — has evolved. Sev­eral In­di­ans got elected to con­sti­tu­tional posts and many more have been ap­pointed to high of­fice. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion had six In­dian Amer­i­can am­bas­sadors, in­clud­ing to In­dia and Malaysia.

But for his abra­sive dis­tanc­ing from the In­dian com­mu­nity, Louisiana Gov­er­nor Bobby Jin­dal could have run for vice-pres­i­dent as the Repub­li­can Party’s nom­i­nee last year. Fel­low Repub­li­can Nikki Ha­ley is the US’s per­ma­nent rep­re­sen­ta­tive at the United Na­tions.

As na­tions, In­dia and the US have come a long way, shed­ding mu­tual dis­trust and dis­tance of the Cold War years. In­di­ans had to be re­minded of the US arms rush dur­ing the 1962 con­flict with China, but no longer.

Re­la­tions sur­vived the Nixon ad­min­is­tra­tion’s hos­til­ity in the 1970s, eco­nomic sanc­tions af­ter nu­clear tests by the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion and much else be­fore sign­ing the civil nu­clear deal un­der Bush Jr.

Amer­i­can tech­nol­ogy is now avail­able to In­dia. But without that help, In­dia last month launched a record break­ing 104 satel­lites from a sin­gle rocket, 96 of them from US com­pa­nies.

The di­chotomy in Indo-US re­la­tions can­not be missed.

Post-in­de­pen­dence, in the Cold War era, the In­dian gov­ern­ment was wary of the US, be­ing de­nied ac­cess to tech­nol­ogy and sev­eral things that were, in­stead, gifted to its neigh­bours. But the peo­ple went to the near­est Amer­i­can mis­sion seek­ing a visa to study and work, of­ten as­pir­ing to mi­grate. Go­ing “phoren” (for­eign) meant one was go­ing to the US.

When In­dian in­tel­li­gentsia and the po­lit­i­cal class was op­pos­ing the Amer­i­can war in Viet­nam, their gov­ern­ment was re­ceiv­ing free food un­der the Amer­i­can Public Law PL 480 to feed the peo­ple, in­clud­ing those ac­tivists.

Some of this di­chotomy ended, but took a long time. The surge of mi­gra­tion in the 1990s pushed fur­ther with the on­set of tech­nol­ogy, par­tic­u­larly the In­ter­net, and of the BPOs (busi­ness process out­sourc­ing) and star­tups, where In­di­ans be­came not just work­ers, but lead­ers and even in­vestors cre­at­ing jobs.

Suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments in the last 15 years have moved closer to the US as never be­fore, buy­ing weapons, ex­chang­ing in­tel­li­gence, ac­quir­ing tech­nol­ogy and dove­tail­ing much of the trade and in­dus­try with what the Amer­i­cans have or need.

But for the civil nu­clear deal signed with the US, it is doubt­ful if In­dia would have re­ceived nu­clear fuel from the West and mem­ber­ship of the Mis­sile Tech­nol­ogy Con­trol Regime.

What­ever its con­sid­er­a­tion, the US backs In­dia’s quest for mem­ber­ship of the Nu­clear Sup­pli­ers’ Group and per­ma­nent mem­ber­ship of the United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil.

That con­sid­er­a­tion, un­stated by In­dia, but known to the world, is for work­ing closely to­gether and some of the diplo­matic and strate­gic moves.

In­dia’s proac­tive pos­tur­ing vis a vis China, be it on South China Sea or the re­cent vis­its of the US en­voy to In­dia and of the Dalai Lama to Arunachal Pradesh that Beijing dis­putes, are among the glar­ing in­di­ca­tors.

Doubts have emerged af­ter Trump’s sur­prise elec­tion vic­tory. In­dian For­eign Sec­re­tary S. Jais­hankar coun­sels: “Stop de­mon­is­ing Trump. An­a­lyse him.”

But an­a­lysts are di­vided on prox­im­ity to the US in light of the grow­ing Chi­nese pres­ence in In­dia. Should not In­dia junk its op­po­si­tion on “tech­ni­cal” grounds on the Chi­nese-led One Belt, One Road ini­tia­tive and join it?

With or without Indo-US prox­im­ity, the China-Pak­istan Eco­nomic Cor­ri­dor has given China its much sought ac­cess to the In­dian Ocean.

China has el­bowed its way into Afghanistan as In­dia and the US look on help­lessly.

The Chi­nese pres­ence in Pak­istan’s Gwadar port in New Delhi’s per­cep­tion means that, no­tion­ally at least, any In­dia-Pak­istan con­flict at sea could bring Chi­nese in­ter­ven­tion to pro­tect its ships and prop­erty.

An­a­lysts ask whether In­dia can and should seek to fight a war on two (China and Pak­istan) fronts, as re­cently stated by In­dia Army chief Gen­eral Bipin Rawat.

The big­gest for­eign and se­cu­rity pol­icy chal­lenge that In­dia con­fronts to­day is the deep­en­ing China-Pak­istan re­la­tion­ship. That would need to be man­aged, not nec­es­sar­ily by play­ing the Amer­ica card.

In­dian mi­grants be­gan go­ing to the US as early as 1820. The surge came in the 1990s, mak­ing them the sec­ond largest im­mi­grant group in the US af­ter Mex­i­cans, and ahead of those from China, the Philip­pines and Viet­nam.

Suc­ces­sive In­dian gov­ern­ments in the last 15 years have moved closer to the US as never be­fore, buy­ing weapons, ex­chang­ing in­tel­li­gence, ac­quir­ing tech­nol­ogy and dove­tail­ing much of the trade and in­dus­try with what the Amer­i­cans have or need.

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