A romance now in full bloom
The American romance with India started with the courtship of Jawaharlal Nehru; suffered estrangement in the Indira Gandhi years; witnessed relentless pursuit during the Rajiv to Rao governments; consummated with Singh and is now enjoying a honeymoon mode with Modi.
The Indian republic was born when the world owing to the Cold War was already polarized into hostile capitalist and communist blocs led by the US and the erstwhile Soviet Union, respectively. The large size and huge population of India made her a potential target for American capitalist expansion and strategic bonding. More important was her proximity with the Soviet commies and so the primary goal of the American foreign policy was to ensure that India did not join the communist camp but the Indian Premier Nehru was not willing to tie himself to the apron strings of the Americans because he had greater goals to pursue through the policy of Non-alignment whereby he looked upon himself as “a mediatory Third Force between the two rival power blocs.”
Despite Nehru’s Non-aligned flirtation in foreign affairs and Fabian approach towards his country’s economic development being the irritants, the Americans continued to court Nehru through diplomatic assistance and economic help because they looked up to him as the “bulwark against the rising tide of totalitarianism that was threatening the newly free nations of the world.” And if America continued to work for Nehru’s political survival, it was because of Chester Bowles, the US ambassador to India, who advocated that the Indian prime minister was an “authentic democrat in the liberal tradition” who would prevent his country from becoming communist.
It was during the testing times of war with China in 1962 that Nehru dumped the Non-aligned posture and the Hindi-Cheeni Bhai Bhai rhetoric in favour of strategic relationship with the US but went back to his old ways of criticizing the Americans as imperialists after the war, completely forgetting how munificently had he benefitted from the American largesse during the war. This was the “Thankless Nehru” at its best. Undeterred, the American “Romeo” continued to court the Indian “Juliet” during the presidency of John F Kennedy (JFK), the latter in spite of describing Nehru’s visit to the US as “a disaster…the worst head-of-state visit I have had;” nonetheless, kept humoring Nehru for the latter’s “soaring idealism” and “international self-righteousness,” terming him as “the John Foster Dulles of neutralism”: Dulles being the ardent proponent of the bloc politics and Nehru being the opponent of such politics.
Once Indira passed into history, the American ‘Romeo’ once again started the pursuit of the Indian ‘Juliet’ because the US President Ronald Reagan thought the new Indian Premier Rajiv Gandhi was a “can-do” leader
The Americans had enough of this courtship because during the Indira-Nixon years, this courtship turned into estrangement when Nixon exhibited an open “tilt” towards Pakistan in the Pak-India 1971 war, snubbing Indira’s efforts to make her country the South Asian hegemon and for establishing explicit strategic ties with communist Russia. Nixon’s animosity towards India was rooted in two things: first, when he visited India after losing the presidential election to JFK and the gubernatorial race to the state of California, he was treated “not only like a defeated governor of California, but also like one who had lost an election for dog catcher.” Two, he did not want anything to stand in his “opening” to China mid-wived by Pakistan. The estrangement continued when Indira refused to denounce the Russian invasion of Afghanistan; however when Indira’s External Affairs Minister Narasimha Rao protested to the visiting American presidential advisor Clark Clifford as to why was the US giving $400 million in military assistance to Pakistan, the latter embarrassed the former by stating that “the United States would be willing to give India an equal amount,” a fact that has been denied by the US officials but which was confided by Rao to Professor Harold A Gould in confidence.
The Americans did not want to let slip the Indian “Juliet” this time and Senator Orin Hatch’s words reflected both the American desire and desperation: “I believe a historic shift is underway. Ten years from now on scholars will look back on this last year as the end to the Ice Age…” The pursuit continued under Bush I’s presidency when Christina R Rocca, the Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia informed, “As India increases its global reach, we are working to build an effective strategic partnership…. Our long term strategic interests dictate that we pursue this goal.” Under the ‘philandering’ President Bill Clinton, this pursuit became relentless. The American charm snared the Indian ‘beauty’ when the latter agreed to hold a ‘dialogue’ with her ‘suitor’ in which the ‘romantic partners’ held one another intensely for two years punctuated by fourteen formal and numerous informal ‘embraces’ to thrash out the irritants that caused estrangement.
The person who gave a new vision to this ‘warming’ relationship was the American President Bush Jr’s Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, who thought that the US had ‘wasted years’ in establishing close relations with India by being ‘obsessed’ with nuclear proliferation, Kashmir and Pakistan and emphasized that the American focus should instead be on ‘broader issues’ of economics and business to satisfy the ‘insatiable lust’ of corporate America. Under this new vision, the relationship bloomed when the US gifted the Indian “Juliet” with a ‘sweetheart’ nuclear deal which was humbly accepted by the Indian Premier Manmohan Singh with a simple “Thank you” and celebrated by the pompous Bush in these words: “What this agreement says is that things change, times change, that leadership can make a difference.” The blooming relationship blossomed under President Obama and is now going through a honeymoon mode under Trump and Modi.