A Perspective on Indo-US
Los Angeles, March, 2005
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 email@example.com