COMMENT: Obama in India —Anwar Syed - Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Source :\11\24\story_24-11-2010_pg3_2

President Obama’s aspiration, expressed in his address to the Indian parliament, may not be shared by the leading members of the US Congress. The Republican majority in the House of Representatives will want to know more than what the US may do for India. It will want to know what India can and will do for the US

President Barack Obama has been in trouble at home. The measures he took may have prevented a collapse of the financial markets, but they have remained controversial. He has not been able to turn the economy around, which continues to be sluggish. The number of jobs being lost tends to be as large as the number of new jobs being created. The president’s standing in public esteem has been falling. The Republican Party’s massive victory in the recent mid-term elections for the US House of Representatives manifests the American people’s dissatisfaction with his administration. This is the context in which his recent visit to India may be seen.

He went there to expand business opportunities for American corporations and employment opportunities for his people. He was accompanied by some 250 corporate executives who expected to negotiate deals with Indian businessmen. According to one report, they made $ 10 billion worth of agreements that would create 50,000 jobs in the US.

Aware that his visit to India would be received with some misgiving in Pakistan, he let it be known that he intended to visit Pakistan sometime in 2011 and, by way of comforting Pakistanis, he invited President Asif Zardari to visit the US. If any sense of neglect did develop in Pakistan, it was needless, for visits of heads of government to other countries have largely a symbolic value. These visits are not the occasion when business between governments is transacted. Visiting dignitaries merely sign the agreements that their respective officials have reached, sometimes after protracted negotiations.

India maintained a policy of non-alignment vis-a-vis the superpowers until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. But its relations with the US were reasonably cordial and mutually cooperative. Democratic administrations in Washington, even more than the Republicans, held India’s leaders, notably Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, in high esteem. They went out of their way to befriend India, partly in order to keep it from embracing the Soviet Union. They also admired India’s unfaltering commitment to democracy, which became especially noteworthy in contrast with Pakistan’s lapses into military dictatorship.

The president went out of his way to compliment his audiences as the inheritors of a great civilisation that even in antiquity had excelled in the arts and sciences. He recalled that it had given the world the concept and digit of zero, which advanced the study of mathematics and related subjects. He praised India’s recent advances in information technology and other areas of industrial and commercial development. He acknowledged India’s status as a world power and asserted his administration’s resolve to support its quest for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council (UNSC). He added that it would be a difficult and complicated project, but he would nevertheless work for its success. His endeavours in this regard may turn out to be in vain. The composition of the Security Council was settled way back in 1945 when the UN Charter was adopted by the participating nations at that time. Any change in that composition would need the approval of all of its five permanent members, namely, the US, Britain, France, Russia, and China. Each of them has a veto on any resolutions that may be proposed for the Council’s adoption. It is likely that China will veto any proposal to name India as a permanent member.

President Obama also identified numerous commonalities in the political cultures of the two countries, their shared values and commitments. He visualised a partnership between the US and India for improving the state of the world. There were likewise many ventures of mutual benefit in which they could work together. Indians make a substantial contribution to the American economy. More than 10 million of them live in the US, engaged in a variety of occupations ranging from taxi drivers to corporate executives and university professors. They are particularly visible, indeed dominant, in schools of business, medicine, and engineering in many universities. On the other hand, we find that American investments in India stand at nearly $ 40 billion. American capitalists are more dedicated to money they can make than to their country. They will take their money where they can maximise their profits. American industry makes high performance weapons, aircraft and space vehicles but it has outsourced the production of many consumer goods and services to enterprises in foreign countries, including India. Living in northern Virginia, I once called the telephone enquiry to get a certain party’s number, and the person who responded to my call was a woman in Calcutta to whom the American telephone company had outsourced this job. An American doing the same work would have cost the company ten times as much as this Indian woman did. If Mr Obama wants to create more jobs in the US, he will have to persuade American industry to return to manufacturing. The American capitalist who wants to make shirts at a cost of $ 5 a piece in Vietnam and sell them in American stores for $ 30 each should be told that he cannot do so; he will have to sell his shirts where he makes them, or pay a heavy import duty if he wants to bring them to the US.

President Obama’s offer to work together with India in many other areas of activity sounds good, but it will not necessarily materialise. Ventures will have to be identified in which cooperation can be mutually profitable. Its specifics will have to be worked out by concerned business executives and public officials. They may or may not share the president’s enthusiasm for cooperation between the two countries. The question of who will play the leading role in joint ventures will also rise. It may be assumed that American officials and businessmen will want to play such a role, but that may not be well received in the Indian camp.

President Obama’s aspiration, expressed in his address to the Indian parliament, may not be shared by the leading members of the US Congress. The Republican majority in the House of Representatives will want to know more than what the US may do for India. It will want to know what India can and will do for the US. That may not be very much.

The writer, professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, is a visiting professor at the Lahore School of Economics

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