The recent visit to India of Nikki Haley, America’s India-origin permanent representative to the United Nations, can have only compounded the sense in New Delhi that the India-US relationship under President Donald Trump is not going to be smooth-sailing, and even Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose effort from day one in office has been to please Washington, cannot any more be in doubt on this score. In her public remarks and in a television interview, Ms Haley sought to underscore two points — the importance of religious tolerance in a democracy, and the importance to America that India downgrade its relations with its important neighbour Iran and stop buying oil from it.
The point conveyed about religious tolerance is a direct hit at the Modi regime. President Barack Obama too had made the same point before departing New Delhi on his last trip here. However, this issue being underlined by the Trump administration is a bit rich. The US has obviously taken that path because it is quite certain that it can get away with it, given the domestic Indian record in the past four years. When the Modi regime has run its course, the religious question will appear far more balanced than it is today. But ties with Iran are a matter of strategic concern for India. New Delhi needs to inform Washington straight out that it cannot let its Tehran ties, or for that matter relations with any country, be dictated by Washington. Way too much hangs by it.
This country just cannot afford to surrender its strategic autonomy to any external power. It has not done so for 70 years and it cannot begin now. Dealing with a runaway Washington is not easy for even its traditional Nato allies — the Europeans, Japanese and Canadians. They are all learning this the hard way. So, there is no surprise if the Modi regime also gets a knock. The point, however, is how it responds to the Americans. Many will be watching this play — not least Iran, and also countries like China and Pakistan.
Even in a multi-polar world, the US is the world’s most significant power — in military, political, technological, financial and knowledge terms. India must do what it can to be on genuinely friendly terms with it, but not by surrendering its self-respect. But, we must not harbour a victim complex unnecessarily. The failure of the planned meeting of the external affairs and the defence ministers of the two countries (the “2-plus-2” meet) to materialise on July 6 in Washington is due to exogenous reasons. No slight should be read into this. We should just look for other suitable dates.
By: Deccan Chronicle
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