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Somewhat Confused


Hopefully, the 2+2 meetings between India and the US, as well as the virtual meet between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Joe Biden, will have led to a better understanding of each other’s positions, not just on Ukraine, but also international security and economic concerns. The two countries are considered ‘natural allies’ by most political commentators because of their democratic structure, but there are increasing doubts about how close they are in civilisational terms.

The US is undergoing what some may term as a cultural ‘meltdown’, particularly as race relations have taken centre-stage in the political and social fields. The divide between the Left and the Right has become starker. The liberalism that prevailed in academic and intellectual circles has been pushed back by a growing fundamentalist approach to issues. This has resulted in an almost schizophrenic approach to the rest of the world, including India.

India’s transformation into a significant economic, technology and military power has rendered conventional attitudes in the US almost obsolete. So, when the new US looks at India, it does not know what to make of it; just as some sections of the Indian political spectrum are unable to outgrow the ‘socialism’ of the past. Increasingly, Americans of Indian Origin are becoming the telescope through which India is viewed. On their part, Persons of Indian origin shape the narrative to suit their ends in the US. India’s interests only come second, if at all.

It will take some time for the US to shed its condescension towards a nation they for long classified as a basket case. With all the other setbacks it is facing as the world’s leading power, including the emerging challenge from China, it doesn’t exactly know how to deal with India. So, mixed messages are emanating. A turned ‘native’ was sent to threaten India with ‘consequences’ as a precursor to the talks. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken did not fail to beat the ‘human rights’ drum, not having learned anything from the failure of Barak Obama’s visit to India. They are more comfortable with the almost fawning attitude of India’s past political elite. How does this serve the purpose of winning India as an ally?

For India it poses the challenge of navigating through these contradictions. There are many good reasons for being on the right side of the US Establishment, but it cannot overlook its own priorities in the process. The coming days will reveal how much each has understood of the other.