Author : Manoj Joshi

Originally Published 2014-02-04 06:48:37 Published on Feb 04, 2014
There is a significant difference between the texture of the relationship that the US enjoys with other democracies like UK, Germany, France and Japan, and the one it has with India. And neither are we able to cash in on it to the extent the Chinese and the Pakistanis managed.
India has failed to cash in on its relationship with America
" Why has no leader of the United States of America ever been the chief guest at India's Republic Day parade?

After all, we have had presidents, prime ministers and kings from all over the world, and, horror of horrors, even leaders from China and Pakistan. But the US seems to be a strange absence in our guest list.

The choice for a chief guest for the Republic Day is fraught with many meanings. It can be a signal for the strategic direction the country intends to take, such as the one sent by having Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan as the chief guest for the 2014 celebration.

Likewise, we have had Iran in 2003, Brazil in 2004, Saudi Arabia in 2006, or Indonesia in 2011.

Another perennial has been the Russian/Soviet president who has come thrice, with President Putin attending most recently in 2007.

In other cases we celebrated our closeness to another country such as Bhutan, whose king was the chief guest in 2013 for the fourth time.

Some choices, though, are simply baffling - for example Peru (1987), Argentina (1985) or Bulgaria (1969).


In 1958, we had a People's Liberation Marshal, Ye Jianying.

Even Pakistani leaders have been welcome, notably Governor General Ghulam Mohammed in 1955 and agriculture minister Rana Abdul Hamid in 1965.

Other leaders of the Western world, the prime ministers and presidents of Britain, Australia, Germany and France have come, but not the Americans.

Some would say that these are mere symbols and do not mean much. But symbols, too, have their own purpose.

They are a code that reveals the texture of a relationship. And as symbols go, notice that no American president, even the sainted Lincoln has been graced with a road, leave alone a statue in New Delhi.

We have an Archbishop Makarios Marg, named after the first president of Cyprus, an Olof Palme road, and roads named after Kwame Nkrumah, Nasser and Mandela, Ataturk, Alexander Dubcek, but none for, say, John Kennedy who came to India's assistance in our dark hour of defeat in 1962.

In many ways, our relationship with the United States is the most important external relationship we have.

As the global hegemon since the end of World War II, a friendly US has much to offer - aid, investment, expertise, political heft.

By the same measure, an unfriendly US can and does cause a great deal of trouble. India has seen both sides of this coin.

American aid was the key in preventing mass starvation in the 1960s, its expertise revamped our higher education and triggered the green revolution.

Most crucially, its political blessings ensured that India remained a favoured destination of World Bank assistance, and, more recently, in removing India from the global civil nuclear blacklist.

But the same US also created our greatest security nightmare by propping up the military junta in Pakistan and arming it to the point it began to think itself as a rival of India.

Likewise, the Sino-US détente kept India off balance through the 1970s and 1980s. Some analysts believe that some of the problems in the Indo-US relationship have been structural.

These relate to differing world views, conflicting economic priorities and asymmetries in their national power.

Cold War

In the 1950s, India saw economic development as its principal challenge and sought to promote world peace through non-alignment between the two power Blocs.

However, the US saw the principal problem as arising out of the threat posed by the Soviet Union and its allies.

In economic terms, the US pursued the path of liberal capitalism, seeking open markets for investment and trade.

India, on the other hand, adopted a "socialistic" model and closed off its economy from the rest of the world. Since this model failed to deliver, India failed to develop its comprehensive national power and the existing asymmetries between the US and India on this score prevalent in 1950 remained.

The end of the Cold War may have changed many things, but it has not altered New Delhi's mindset on non-alignment, which has now morphed to the concept of "strategic autonomy."

On the economic side, India has changed and accepted the liberal nostrum, but not fully. Significant barriers to investment and trade remain, often only because of the existence of a retrograde bureaucracy.

As for military power, the asymmetry remains, though India is now a nuclear weapons state. However, by refusing to reform and restructure its armed forces it persists in de-rating their capabilities.


Even so, notwithstanding the recent spat over the Khobgrade affair, India and the US are much closer than they ever were.

But, there is a significant difference between the texture of the relationship that the US enjoys with other democracies like UK, Germany, France and Japan, and the one it has with India.

And neither are we able to cash in on it to the extent the Chinese and the Pakistanis managed. In great measure, this is as much a consequence of persisting Indian weaknesses in the economic and military fields, as the quality of its political leadership which cannot take the country beyond its strategic posture of "passive restraint".

Economic and military power create their own dynamics and somehow, India has not been able to reach the point where it is taken as a serious interlocutor in the power dynamics of Asia.

But to come back to our original proposition. Why is it that India finds it so difficult to acknowledge and openly further a relationship with the United States?

To an extent it reflects the continuing distrust of the US in relation to our predicament with Pakistan. But to a greater extent it reflects a national inferiority complex.

The Americans are like a rich relative, whose help we think we are entitled to, but whose help we do not want to acknowledge because they highlight our own failure to accumulate the currency of power - a flourishing economy or a powerful military.

(The writer is a Distinguished Fellow, Observer Research Foundation and Contributing Editor Mail Today)

Courtesy: Daily Mail, UK

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.


Manoj Joshi

Manoj Joshi

Manoj Joshi is a Distinguished Fellow at the ORF. He has been a journalist specialising on national and international politics and is a commentator and ...

Read More +