Monday, February 19, 2018
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A defining moment?

obama-indiaBy Prerna Suri

There's a change in India.

Whenever previous American presidents have touched down in the country, their every gesture is scrutinised. From what tickles their palate right down to whose hands they shake more vigorously.

A visit from an American president has always infused India with some much-needed confidence.

With Barack Obama's maiden visit to the country as president, there is excitement. But not the electrifying expectations one had when George W Bush or Bill Clinton came calling.

So, what's really changed?

A nine per cent growth rate may have added to India's confident swagger. Or a $30bn defence budget may have caught the world's attention.

"The US sees that India is clearly a rising power, its economy is quite strong. It is an Asian power with over a billion people, eventually to take over china on the population front," says Dr Daniel Markey, Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

With Obama battling a series of crises back home - the biggest - how to create more jobs - he's now looking towards Asia. The region is a storehouse of opportunities for America's businesses. India features prominently in these plans. And America seems to be handing its business card to it.

"They (the Americans) signed agreements worth about $12 or 13bn in defence. And there are agreements worth more or less the same amount in the pipeline. And then there is the $10bn deal for the multi-role aircraft. So American business, [and the] American economy stand to do very well out of India over the next few years because they seem to be bagging the big military contracts coming up for tender," Rahul Bedi, a defence analyst based of out the capital, New Delhi, said.

US exports to India have quadrupled over the last seven years to about $17bn a year, and service exports tripled to $10bn a year. Indian companies meanwhile are the second-fastest growing investors in the United States and now support 57,000 US jobs.

But while Indians are enjoying this newfound attention, they're also a bit wary.

Protectionist policies from the American markets are taking a toll on Indian businesses. The IT sector, which earns more than 60 per cent of its revenue from the US has suffered a setback, ever since an American ban on outsourcing of projects came into force last year.


There are other bones to pick as well. India would like to go beyond just a transactional relationship with America and see how it fits in a more broader strategic vision of the region - and the world.

Afghanistan is turning out to be a sore point between India and Pakistan, traditional enemies, both of which want significant regional influence there. But continued American military support to Pakistan is ruffling feathers here in New Delhi.

"Its very difficult for the Indian establishment and the Indian public to accept that on the one hand you're giving billions of dollars of military assistance to Pakistan and on the other that you know you want to craft a partnership with India," says Rajeev Sikri, a former Indian diplomat.

How the US will craft its relationship with Asia's third largest economy will be interesting to watch. Which begs the question - will this be a defining moment etched in the annals of Indo-US relations?

As the Indian cliché goes- we'll have to wait and watch.

Prerna Suri, Al Jazeera's India correspondent, reports from across the country.

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