Deeper Ties…not so sure

Bush Will Visit Ambivalent India

By PETER WONACOTT, Wall Street Journal February 25, 2006; Page A2

When President Bush arrives Wednesday in New Delhi — the fifth U.S. president to visit India since the country’s independence in 1947 — he will be looking for deeper ties.

The Indian people aren’t so sure.

Over the past year, leaders of the world’s two biggest democracies have been busily warming what were once very cool ties. At a White House dinner in July, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh toasted President Bush, the first lady and “the friendly people of the United States of America” as he hailed “a new chapter in our relationship.” India and the U.S. now conduct joint military exercises, fight disease together and may soon share civilian nuclear technology. India-U.S. trade nearly doubled last year.

But the U.S. embrace has sparked a noisy debate in India between those who tout the virtues of a partnership and those who fear a smothering superpower. Despite rapidly deepening ties, many Indians are still ambivalent about the U.S. and remain reluctant to take America’s side in a fast-changing world.

In that respect, not all that much has changed since 1969, when President Nixon visited India. At the time, the U.S. was edging closer to Pakistan and two years later would begin courting China — two neighbors with which India had fought recent wars. In 1971, India signed a friendship treaty with the Soviet Union, America’s Cold War foe. Indira Gandhi’s visit to Washington that same year did little to ease hostilities.

In a taped conversation in the Oval Office that was later declassified, Mr. Nixon discussed the Indian leader’s visit with U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

“We really slobbered over the old witch,” Mr. Nixon said.

“The Indians are bastards anyway,” replied Mr. Kissinger.

Mr. Kissinger apologized for his remarks in July last year, after the taped comments were declassified with other documents from the Cold War era.

But hard historical feelings toward the U.S. linger. The country’s leftist politicians are organizing street protests to coincide with President Bush’s visit. Opposition to a strategic partnership has “overwhelming popular support,” says D. Raja, a secretary of the Communist Party of India. At stake, he adds, is the country’s autonomy. “America always tries to dictate to the world,” he says.

On the other side of the debate, some Indians have absorbed a different lesson from Mr. Nixon’s time. As India sided with the Soviet Union, China turned a strategic alliance with the U.S. to maximum advantage. Better ties helped propel an opening to the world, fueled foreign investment and transformed the country.

Now, those who support Prime Minister Singh’s vision for better U.S. ties hope India, like China, will put aside thorny issues of history. The challenge is to act big and “not be worried about being pushed around,” says C. Raja Mohan, author of the new book “Crossing the Rubicon: The Shaping of India’s New Foreign Policy.” He adds: “Let’s think like the elephant we are.”

Write to Peter Wonacott at peter.wonacott@wsj.com5

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