ATITHI Devo Bhava’ or ‘A guest is akin to God’ is an ancient Indian credo. India will have the most powerful personality of the world as its atithi on Republic Day. US President Barack Obama’s visit is likely to be highly significant for Indo-US relations. Though the White House has been silent till now on the agenda of the visit, America’s sudden regard for India is the underlying connotation. Obama is not attending the India Gate parade to witness the self-proclaimed mighty defence system of India or its colourful jhankis. Whenever and wherever the US President travels, he means business and business on America’s terms. The US business delegation bowls over nations in such a way that the entourage appears to be doling out largesse for the poorest of the poor in the particular host country.
Containing a rising China has become an imperative for the US, and it must find friends in the region. Given that the US is stretched militarily, it has no stomach for any adventures in Asia. It needs a friendly nation in Asia to balance a progressively more assertive China. Taiwan and Japan alone are insufficient and, while Pakistan received billions of American dollars during the decades of US engagement with Afghanistan, it cannot be counted as trustworthy by anyone in Washington. The US has to focus on India.
According to Gallup’s annual public opinion poll, India was perceived by Americans as their sixth favourite nation in the world. Some 72 per cent of Americans viewed India favourably in 2014. The US has outlined the following bilateral initiatives in 10 key areas:
- Advanced global security and countering terrorism.
- Disarmament and non-proliferation.
- Trade and economic relations.
- High technology.
- Energy security, clean energy and climate change.
- Science and technology.
The facts prove otherwise. US exports to India focused mainly on the following sectors:
- Engineering goods and machinery, including electrical (31.2%).
- Aviation and aircraft (16.8%).
- Precious stone and metals (8.01%).
- Optical instruments and equipment (7.33%).
- Organic chemicals (4.98%).
Today IBM and HP employ more than 100,000 Indians each; dozens of American companies maintain their largest overseas R&D centres in India; Boeing, GE, Exxon Mobil and others sell billions of dollars worth of equipment a year to India. Indian investors have investments in American icons, such as New York’s Pierre Hotel, and Hollywood’s Dreamworks Studios, as well as in iron ore mining in Minnesota and oil fracking in Appalachia. Bilateral trade is touching $100 billion.
The focus of US industry is obvious—to generate more and more business from India’s 40-crore people’s market. It is to be seen if President Obama’s mission is as much about politics as about trade. India and the US share many cultural values—democracy, free market, multi-ethnic societies and tolerance for diversity. There is also the intense cold war between the US and Russia, whose President, Vladimir Putin, has just visited India. The world is cautious about the intense war for economic dominance and India is in a position to provide a shock-absorbing mechanism. Will Prime Minister Narendra Modi only do business with the US in fields like insurance, medicine, defence, electronics and so on when India needs sustained American support in agriculture, health and education? Modi has a diplomatic and tactical role cut out for him during the Obama visit. In Gujarati fashion, he must achieve more in negotiation. At the same time, he must be wary of the US becoming authorised to flit about the Indian economy like a fly-by-night operator in the name of bolstering India.