New Indian Express,07 Nov 2008 12:14:00 AM IST
HISTORIC. Landslide. Popular.
Whichever way you say it, one thing is certain. The much-awaited change has occurred with the spectacular victory of Barack Obama, and the disinherited of the world celebrate his arrival. But should India be elated or worried over the return of a Democrat to the White House? At least in the short run, the bonhomie that marked Indo-US relations under the Bush administration will be missed in New Delhi. Though improvements in bilateral relations began with the visit of President Bill Clinton in March 2000, post-Pokhran India had to invest considerable political and diplomatic capital to overcome bilateral tensions, misgivings and sanctions.
In recent days anti-Bush voices in the US got a new boost: Economy stupid! Naturally the economic meltdown and fears over recession will be the top priority of the new administration.
For India this financial crisis means that its economic clout will be significantly dented.
Given his limited international exposure, foreign policy would be the last thing on Obama’s mind; South Asia far less so. The importance of the region emanates from the travails of Afghanistan and the need to keep the Taliban at bay. So the critical question Obama might ask would be: Who can serve me better, is it India or Pakistan? News on the Kashmir front is also disturbing. Media reports suggest that Obama wants to appoint a special mediator. This would make Pakistanis feel happier especially after Obama’s comments about terrorism and jihadi elements, not India, being the serious threats facing Islamabad at present.
Likewise, the traditional Democrats’ agenda — democracy, human rights and minority treatment— would become vocal and intrusive, causing some unpleasant moments for India. But the overall picture is not bleak. On the critical issue of Iran, New Delhi will heave a sigh of relief. The Bush administration’s anti-Iran obsession will be a thing of the past as the Democrats are eager to open direct talks with the Islamic republic. Even if US-Iran normalisation is not imminent, there will be a lessening of tension between the two erstwhile allies. This should enable India to be more ‘independent’ while dealing with Iran. And anti-American rhetoric within India may be considerably muted and less shrill.
The wider world will be watching the new shifts on Iraq. During the campaign Obama harped on his opposition to the Iraqi invasion. As president he will have to come up with a workable strategy. How does he plan to get the boys home early when regional powers are apprehensive over a post-withdrawal political vacuum in Iraq? American policy on Iraq would remove the enigma surrounding Senator Obama.
Obama’s decisive electoral victory is thus a huge responsibility. Having raised public expectations within and outside the US, he will have to deliver, and swiftly. Otherwise the massive mandate will become a millstone around his neck.