Millennium Post

Obama vs Romney

The Indian chatterati has always had a general interest in US elections. But with New Delhi’s growing stake in Washington, there is growing concern on how change in leadership, if any, is bound to affect the US policy towards India. So, who should India be praying or backing – the capitalist Mitt or charismatic Obama, is a question many are asking.  

The present US-India relationship is robust but it has lost the steam and enthusiasm of Bush administration. As Obama took office in 2008, his administration sent mixed signals for India.  Much to New Delhi’s chagrin the US officials gave credence to Sino-American relations with G-2 condominium in Asian and global affairs discussing everything from financial crisis to global warming. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton skipped India during her first trip abroad to Asia and underscored the importance of engaging China to promote stability in South Asia. Obama’s initial policy of meddling in Kashmir to drum out Pakistan’s support in Afghanistan was a cause for concern for New Delhi. But things took turn for better when President Obama visited India in November 2010 and gave Pakistan a miss instead. He emphasised India’s role as an Asian power, endorsed India's candidacy for permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council and agreed to support India's membership of the nuclear export control groups. Implementations of the civil nuclear initiative and expanded trade and defence cooperation have remained high points for both the countries.

In the last four years, the Obama administration has been building on the Bush policy towards India. Considering India a doorway to Asia, the US is keen to see a militarily stronger and economically dynamic India. The 'strategic alliance' with India has been read by many as US engineered balance of power quest against China. While New Delhi welcomes technology and defence cooperation, it is not comfortable to be a part of Sino-US rivalry. Despite several differences between Beijing and New Delhi, international political economy brings them closer. China and India find themselves at the same table challenging the economic dominance of the West. India has sided with China against the US on several issues, including global climate talks and reform of international financial system. New Delhi realises the importance of maintaining an independent approach to Beijing. For India the best alternative is balancing its economic engagement with the Chinese along with developing political and economic relations with the US.

Thus, for some in the US there is palpable frustration that the relationship has not yielded sufficient results. In terms of trade and defence as well, Washington has not been particularly happy with India’s response. The Nuclear liability bill is mired in controversy. New Delhi’s decision to go for the French Rafale while knocking out Boeing and Lockheed from the competition for the purchase of 126 fighter aircraft has also left stakeholders in Washington disappointed. Obama has personally attacked India’s economic policy and has demanded second generation market reforms. India-US business to business dealings have taken a beating in recent times. For many Americans, India today is a less attractive partner as economic growth slumps and government stalls on key reforms.

Keeping all this in view, New Delhi is closely following the elections for what it may bring for India and the South Asia. However, till now Republican candidate Mitt Romney has failed to comprehend an innovative foreign policy agenda, especially with regards to South Asia. While Osama’s killing earned Obama a 'tough guy' image and did much to heal the 9/11 trauma, several other policies with respect to drone attacks in the North Waziristan region along the Pakistan/Afghanistan border have been instrumental in Democrats shedding their soft stand on national security issues. On the other hand, Romney’s statements imply that he may not have a national security meeting in the first 100 days to concentrate on the domestic economy. Given the foreign policy challenges the new administration is bound to face in terms of taking decision on Afghanistan, Syrian crisis, Iran’s nuclear programme and the threats from al Qaeda in Yemen and East Africa, this line of thought may not go down well with many.

Romney has been following Obama’s footsteps with respect to India and Pakistan. On Pakistan, it is a shared belief that the situation is difficult and relationship is a complicated one. On the other hand, both the leaders intend on a strong partnership with India. Yet as economy forms the locus of election, outsourcing rhetoric has gathered steam with Obama administration lambasting Romney for promising to give out jobs to India and China.  

Apart from that, visa rejection to professionals under L-1B and H-1B categories is also an issue that has not been in favour of India. Since Obama came to power, rejection rates for Indians have shot up 22.5 per cent. Despite these policies, Obama is liked by many in India. Romney, on the other hand, is much of a stranger in India but he enjoys the support of at least two Indian American Governors, Bobby Jindal from Louisiana and Nikki Haley from South Carolina. On the policy front, however, let us not expect too many policy changes if White House occupants change. The relationship that has flourished since Clinton years is bound to grow. Not due to narrow political concerns but practical knowledge beneficial for both the countries.  

Shreya Upadhyay is a research scholar, School of International Studies, JNU.
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