The second event of the recently launched Indo-American Friendship Association, New Delhi, a brainstorming session on: DRIVING ENGINES OF INDIA-US RELATIONS IN THE DECDE AHEAD was held at Tagore hall, Scope Convention Centre on April 30. The distinguished Panel including kanwal Sibal former Amb to Russia and former FS, Bestselling author Gurcharan Das, fire brand journalist Seema Mustafa, respected academic Prof Amitabh Mattoo, Chairman of Lalit Kala Akademi Dr Ashok Vajpeyi & Minister Political Affairs US Embsaay, Uzra Zeya was Chaired by Amb.Llait Mansingh, Former FS & Amb to USA. (Prof Mattoo & Dr Vajpeyi became the victims of traffic jam and couldn’t make it in time).
In his introductory remarks, Ambassador Surendra Kumar, Founding President of IAFA urged the panelists not to carry the baggage of the past and remain stuck in the present but with deep understanding, appreciation & incisive analysis of International affairs, and with a "cool" and clear head, identify the factors which are likely to shape the relationship between India & the US in the decade ahead.
The Chairman Amb. Lalit Mansingh complimented Amb. Kumar for setting up the Assn with so much of enthusiasm & dynamism and claimed that Indo-American Relations have never been better. The facts that the US still remains India’s largest trading partner and President Obama Dr Manmohan Singh have met six times in the past one year and new development that, for the first time, Indian companies have invested more in the US than other way around were cited as the evidence of this claim. However, he wondered why many Indians as well as Americans feel that the relations between the oldest and the largest democracies aren’t as good as they can be. Is it a case of "hypochondria" or is it actually true, asked Amb. Mansingh.
Kanwal Sibal, felt that driving engines suggested a movement forward and had no doubt in his mind that economic stakes will be the most potent driving engine. However he added, the US is a “very demanding partner” and India’s democratic set up slows down the decision making process and makes it difficult to keep up with the pace. According to him, the US can help India in agriculture field, R &D, infrastructure and knowledge fusion. “Defence” offered significant prospects of co-operation/collaboration Sibal stressed. He was of the opinion that rich and influential Indian American community will continue to have considerable impact on Political relations between India and the US.
Seema Mustafa termed herself as an “odd ball” in the discussion. She felt, the problem was not with bilateral relations but with the so called "strategic partnership". She flagged three points: the Indo-US Civil Nuclear Agreement Deal was not really a "jewel" in our relations’ crown, but an "elephant in the room" now. The Nuclear Liability Bill is yet not passed in the Parliament as it levies way too few sanctions on the suppliers. The onus of negligence is quite unfair. India is feeling the heat on the CTBT too. Is there a congruent foreign policy? Why did India ditch its long time friend Iran at the IAEA voting stage? Thirdly, Pakistan is a strategic ally of the US and so we are made to settle with half-hearted arguments on Hafiz Saeed, Mumbai attacks and Afghanistan!
Gurcharan Das, underlined the need of clarity for achieving our own national interest vis a vis the US. He believed that the NAM had failed and India had lost its footing on the world stage. But with restored self-confidence, thanks to India’s economic growth in the last 20 years, India- US relations are on a much better footing today than earlier. Gurcharan advised unsentimental pursuit our own national interests. Claiming that he felt threatened by China and Pakistan but not the US Gurcharan maintained that George W. Bush saw India with clarity which is missing in Obama Admn; the de-hyphenation of earlier years has again become hyphenated for India-Pakistan relations in Obama Admn’s view. For real strategic partnership to materialize, our relationship should be based on mutual respect, empathy and honour. The US will prosper in coming years too as, unlike Europe and Japan; it has a high immigrant strength, higher education resources and strong innovation capacities. So, it will be in India’s long term interests to have matured & productive relationship with the US.
Uzra Zeya, Minister of Political Affairs, at the US embassy, Delhi stressed on Economic relations to act as a major driving force to shape Indo American relationship in the decade ahead. She hoped that India would, in near future, rise to become the 5th largest trading partner of the US from it’s current 14th place. She listed defense and Education as other major and expanding areas of bilateral cooperation. She pointed out that the No of Indian students going to USA having reached nearly one hundred thousand, India has now, overtaken China. She also underlined that there has been 20% increase in American students to India adding a new dimension to educational co-operation. Uzra was at pains to emphasize that the present Indo-American relationship did not merely offer photo-ops during high profile visits of dignitaries, it was for real. The sheer range, level, nature and frequency of exchanges between the two countries in numerous areas were unprecedented. Above all, the American diplomat underlined, India and US are "working together to confront the greatest challenges of our age" ie International terrorism.
The Q&A session threw a whole range of tough questions which suggested that the US wasn’t a reliable friend, America’s relations with China & Pakistan will impinge on India’s Defence strategy, Russia was a more dependent partner, the US strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan didn’t serve India’s interests etc. The Panel felt that all countries pursue their national interests and the same was true about India; she is pursuing her relationship with Russia and the US and these were not exclusive of each other. Kanwal Sibal said that the record of the last half century will indicate Russia (earlier Soviet Union) has been ready to help though their technology might be somewhat old and dated, hence more reliable. He also felt India shouldn’t be tom toming her Strategic relationships with all and sundry as it serves no purpose.
Gurcharan Das felt that with her economy slated to grow at 8% or more, population growth likely to decline to 1.5 % and her demographic dividend, India will be a force to reckon by 2020
The brainstorming session ended with a Vote of Thanks by the Master of Ceremonies, and the Joint Secretary of the IAFA, Ms. Nehha Bhatnagar.