Quora Question: Has the Obama Administration Destroyed the Relationship With India?

Students dressed as Hindu Lord Krishna (C) and his consort Radha (R) offer school prayers inside their classroom during celebrations marking the Janmashtami festival in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad August 16, 2014. Amit Dave/Reuters

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Answer from Balaji Viswanathan, Currently working on "From Tryst to Tendulkar: The History of Independent India."

I believe so. In fact, Obama will most likely end up like Woodrow Wilson - another very smart academic. Wilson ended up as a tragic figure - isolated both at home and abroad. Like Wilson, Obama is unable to make his mind in foreign policy and his poor handling of friends might cost the U.S. big.

Clinton painstakingly rebuilt the India-US relationship that was destroyed by the Nixon administration. Nixon and Kissinger had pushed India further towards the Soviets. At the end of the cold war, Clinton attacked India purely with his charm and his visit is universally acclaimed as the most famed tour of a foreign leader in India. People loved him and India abandoned Russia. A victory for both the democracies.

After the exit of Clinton, many of us worried that the arrival of the Republicans would bring back the old anti-India policies of the party. Instead, George Bush took India-US relationships to its peak. Republicans became the new friend of India and deep engagement began between the two countries. India was among the few countries that liked George Bush at the end of his term. (India Has a Soft Spot for Bush)

In came another charismatic Democrat. India has had successful partnerships with both Kennedy and Clinton and thought Obama would continue that direction and take the already good Indo-US relationship built by Bush further towards the top.

But, India came in for a sore disappointment. Obama is no Clinton.

The administration treated India shabbily. After his election, Obama called up dozens of world leaders - including the leader of Pakistan. India was left out. Well, the gesture might be minor, but in came a whole lot of policy changes. (More details here: Ignoring India)

President Obama almost immediately turned around and raised the hackles of India's chattering classes by omitting Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh from the list of the two dozen or so world leaders he reached out to, even though Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari received one of the courtesy telephone calls

The new Secretary of State toured all around India in her maiden tour - jumping between Indonesia, China, Japan, South Korea. Despite pleas by the Bush administration officials, she didn't stop in India. The administration's slight on India, took Indian officials by shock.

India the absence of a visit to New Delhi is the latest in an array of troubling signals about the new administration's priorities on the subcontinent

A U.S. Asia strategy for Hillary Clinton's trip
Obama Should Visit India--Soon

Slowly and steadily, India was cut-off from all mentions in foreign policy. India is the world's largest democracy that shares a lot of things with the US - including a push for tech and bringing a balance in Asia. India always had a strong voice among the developing countries, and US could have greatly used it. Instead, the silence was deafening.

Obama's policy was like throwing ice cold water on a winter morning. He started comparing India's rule of Kashmir with the fight of the Jihadists. Imagine an Indian leader comparing America's rule of Hawaii with Osama Bin Laden. Kashmir is a much a part of India, as Hawaii is a part of US.  Despite pleas by many columnists (India: America's indispensable ally), the administration continued to avoid India.

As though to ice the cake, Obama administration let the New York Attorney General have his assault on an Indian diplomat on seemingly minor issues - underpaying maids [Culture Matters: The Case of Devyani Khobragade and India-US Relations]. The issue could have been handled more amicably. If the administration faced with massive global issues is turning friends into foes for underpaying a maid, maybe it doesn't know its priorities.

However, until May this year, India didn't take a firm stand against the US. Indian leaders gave enough time for the US to change its hawkish stance in Asia. This came under a lot of criticism domestically for the Indian Prime Minister. Columnists accused Indian Prime Minister of groveling in US feet.

But, in came Modi as the new Prime Minister in May. Unlike his predecessor, he is not going to take Obama's slights any longer.

Narendra Modi Victory Spells Disaster For US Foreign Policy

Since May, India has moved more closer to a Russia-China alliance. India has no option. It was forced to cut off its friendships with Iran, Russia, and others in the promise of better deal with US. In the absence of a better deal with US, why should India listen to Obama any more?

Only a decade ago, American Presidents were showered with rose petals in India. Today, even Putin commands more respect in India than the US leadership. That says a lot. India could help weaken the US sanctions on Russia through multiple means - by providing market for Russian oil, providing Russia access to tech services and enabling the smooth movement of funds through the newly created BRICS bank. 

To the chagrin of US supporters, Putin has won over the BRICS.

As the crisis intensifies in West Asia, US could have used India's frienships, troops and alliances. And belatedly Obama has sent Kerry to woo India. India has the third largest army in the world, sitting next to the problem zones in the Middle East and carries the same interests as the US. However, the US failed to use India's help. In Afghanistan, a friend of India for 4000 years, India's role was ignored and cut off.

For those of us who were part of growing India-US relationships, the turn of events is sad. As a student, I was a part of the US-Indian Political Action Committee. USINPAC got Indian leaders meet US leaders and helped push the nuclear deal further. It was a heady time, as everything seemed to go positive. Now, the relationship is in ruins. We will wait for 2016 and will hope that US citizens will elect a better leader with a much better appreciation for foreign policy.

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