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Inder Singh, President Global Organization of People of Indian Origin


A Perspective on Indo-US Relations


Los Angeles, March, 2005
Inder Singh

Indo-US relations have undergone a remarkable transformation during the last 15 years. Today, there is close cooperation between the two countries on issues of far reaching consequences, such as the use of nuclear energy and space technology for peaceful purposes and missile defense.

Prior to the administration of President George H.W. Bush (Bush Senior), the US and India had invariably been on opposite sides of almost every major issue. But during his administration, the conflicting Indo US relations got on the right track. However, "the relations went from bad to worse in the wake of New Delhi's 1998 atomic tests, when President Bill Clinton slapped sanctions against India." After former president Clinton visited India in March 2000, the relations between the two countries started improving again.

During his first presidential campaign in 2000, George W. Bush was asked name of India’s prime minister. His failure to remember the prime minister’s name, created furor in the Indian media. However, after George W. Bush became president of the US, he brought to Washington a very different worldview, one closer to India's own. A steady stream of U.S. officials, including many members of the Bush cabinet, has been jetting between Washington and New Delhi. More than 100 US officials of the rank of Assistant Secretary or higher, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers, have traveled to India to shore up bilateral relations. All these high ranking Administration officials have held discussions with their Indian counterparts on missile defense, counter-terrorism, defense and military-to-military teamwork, intelligence exchange, law enforcement, development assistance, high technology trade, joint scientific and health projects, including on HIV/AIDS, and the global environment. In reciprocity, numerous Indian officials also have visited Washington.

President Bush had appointed one of his senior foreign policy advisers, Robert Blackwill, as his ambassador in India. Thus the Bush administration, by intent and design, created an atmosphere where the two governments were continually engaged in a political dialogue unprecedented in its scope, level and frequency.

According to Lalit Mansingh, former ambassador of India to the US, “The Bush Administration during the last four years has succeeded in establishing a level of harmony which was absent in the first five decades of Indo-US relations. Now, there is recognition that while differences would undoubtedly surface from time to time between the two countries, what is needed is better management of these differences.” Four more years of the Bush administration should consolidate the increasing level of partnership between the two countries. There will be a growing acceptance of India's nuclear status, even its possible accommodation as a Nuclear Weapon State without its formally signing the NPT.

The new team in the second Bush term could also make an appreciable difference.

The appointment of US National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice as the Secretary of State and that of her deputy, Stephen Hadley, as the National Security Adviser, will hopefully ensure continuity of the current US policies at the State department and the White House. Both of these officials have been India’s well wishers. Their past record has been favorable towards India. Hopefully, it would continue to be so during the next four years. In September 2002, for the first time, they put India among the global powers. They implemented President Bush’s commitment to ending the nuclear dispute with India. They also helped renew civilian nuclear and space cooperation with India and liberalized high-technology transfers. They kept up the pressure on Pakistan to stop cross-border infiltration.

In June 2004, the two nations agreed to establish a hot line.

India is, however, very much concerned with the Bush administration's decision to give Pakistan “non-NATO” ally status. If ratified by the US Congress, Pakistan could get sophisticated military hardware. To balance that, the US administration has offered top-of-the-line military hardware to India, including the Patriot anti-missile system, the C-130 stretched medium lift transport aircraft, the P-3C Orion maritime surveillance planes—and even the much desired F-16 fighter aircrafts.

China’s growing military power is another concern for India. To balance China's nuclear arsenal, India indirectly was forced to develop its own nuclear weapons.

The deployment of nuclear missile defense system by the US would certainly compel China to increase its nuclear arsenal. This could put stress on India’s economy and force India to divert its resources to develop nuclear parity with China.

According to U.S. Ambassador David C. Mulford, the close relations between the USA and India would continue to flourish. The major players of the Bush team continue during the second Bush term. We should expect new commercial opportunities for both India and the United States in the state-of-the-art technologies for military use, nuclear energy, and space exploration. Other areas of bilateral programs include health care, fighting dread diseases, educational exchanges, agricultural programs and military training exercises and exchanges.

During the last few years, there has been tremendous transfer of wealth from the western countries to India, particularly from the US. This transfusion is bringing India closer to being called a developed country. Globalization is increasingly helping India take more market share from the western companies which can no longer be productive on a competitive basis.

The explosion of information technology has created many business opportunities for both India and the US. India has emerged as a major player in the knowledge-based economy. With each passing day, Indian companies are proving themselves to be credible and lucrative partners of American enterprises. Indian skills have helped sharpen the competitive edge of American companies.

Mr. Robert Blackwill, former US Ambassador, urged the Indian government to get rid of bureaucratic red tape and create the right atmosphere for industry to attract US companies. He also recommended that India should reduce tariffs which remain among the world's highest.

Technological interaction is ever widening. Information technology, advanced materials research, medicine and vaccine development are a few of the frontier areas of mutual collaboration. The recent Open Skies Agreement is expected to benefit the aviation industry and the consumers in both countries. The close cooperation between the two countries on counter-terrorism has extensive and measurable benefits.

The growing Indian community has made its presence felt in the mainstream America. It has provided the best source of people-to-people ties, a relationship in which many families have a vital stake in both countries. The Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) have become a potent voice for promoting stronger bilateral ties, and they are making valuable contributions in technology, education, etc. in both countries

Indian nationals obtained the right to US citizenship less than 60 years ago, in 1946. Dalip Singh Saund, a Punjabi farmer in the Imperial Valley of California, became naturalized citizen of the United States in 1949 and was elected to the U.S. Congress in 1956. Saund was the first Indian in the entire western world to get elected to a major political office, an achievement of epic proportion. In 2004, forty-eight years later, Bobby Jindal became the second Indian to get elected as a US Congressman. At the state level, Kumar Barve, who was first elected to the Maryland State legislature in 1994, is today the minority leader in that state legislature. Satveer Choudhary became the first state senator in Minnesota in 2000, while Upendra Chivukula, Swati Dandekar, and Nikki Randhawa-Haley are three other Indian American lawmakers in state assemblies.

The Indian American community in the US is not lagging behind in helping their motherland. More than two million people of Indian origin in the US are the best sentinels of their motherland, protecting India’s interest while serving and supporting their adopted country.

In 1987, the US aid package to Pakistan included supply of AWACS and other highly sophisticated arms. The possession of AWACS planes in the hands of Pakistan could have posed a serious threat to India. The Indian community had no lobbyists to help them; they could not even afford one. However, the Indian community leaders waged an impressive campaign in opposing the supply of highly sophisticated military equipment including AWACS to Pakistan and thus educated members of the US Congress about the potential dangers. They were also invited to testify before the Senate sub-committee, a rare honor. The result: Pakistan could not get a single AWACS plane, an example of Indian Americans defending the security of their mother land.

The India Caucus is a landmark achievement for the Indian community’s involvement in the political process of their adopted land. There are about 150 U.S. Congressmen who are members of the India Caucus and their support of India related issues is a remarkable feat of the Indian diaspora; unique and unparalleled.

The brain drain of the past has become the brain trust of India. They have earned respect from the American corporate world and enhanced the image of India. Indian American high tech professionals have been partially responsible for the advancement in Information technology in India.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, during his last visit to the USA, remarked, “The Indian-American community in this country is a much significant factor in a stronger India-US partnership in the future. Indian-Americans have shown the exceptional characteristic of being able to integrate fully into American life while also maintaining a close cultural and economic connection with India. They serve as a bridge between our national interests. They are an inspiration to our younger people. Often their regional roots in India make them a special bridge to individual states.”

Academic programs on India in Americans universities are playing a significant role in bettering bilateral relations. In 1992, the community endowed two India chairs at UC, Berkeley. Since then, the number of India chairs or programs has increased several fold. Today, Columbia, Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Texas, Austin, the UC Berkeley, the UCLA, Indiana University, the University of Chicago, SUNY Stony Brook and many others have Indian chairs or programs on India.

Indian students are the largest foreign student population in the US, numbering over 70,000. Thus, India has become the number one source of foreign students and a great and valuable source for intellectual capital for the US.

India has surpassed China to become the second largest source of immigration to the United States, after Mexico.

Since India became a software giant, almost the same number of ‘H1B’ temporary worker visa petitions has been approved for Indian citizens compared with all other countries of the world combined. This traffic is not one way. It is estimated that about 100,000 American citizens live and work in India. The Indian diaspora is providing millions of dollars for scholarships, college/school buildings, and for variety of other projects in the mother country.

In another area of dramatically improved US-Indo relations, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has made a commitment of $100 million for the HIV/AIDS program in India. For its part, the US government is providing $120 million over the next five years.

To underscore the importance of India within the US geo-political strategy, for the first time in the history of Indo-US relations, the US Secretary of State included a visit to India within first sixty days of taking over the leadership of the State Department. Secretary Condoleezza Rice, before her visit to India, remarked, "India is emerging as not just a regional power but as a global power. We saw that in the work that we were able to do with India in the Core Group for the tsunami relief. And I think there are many more opportunities -- economic, in terms of security, in terms of energy cooperation -- that we can pursue with India."

Secretary Rice while addressing a press conference on March 16, 2005 in New Delhi, jointly with her counterpart, India’s Foreign Minister Natwar Singh, said, “The relationship between India and the US has transformed in recent years from one that had great potential into one that is really now realizing that potential.”

The Indo-US relations between the world’s largest and biggest democracies are on the “MOVE”. Both the countries have buried the discordant past and are singing to the same tune.

Inder Singh is President of GOPIO, Global Organization of People of Indian Origin. He was NFIA president from 1988-92 and chairman from 1992-96. He was founding president of FIA, Southern California. He can be reached at


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Inder Singh