The agendas of India and the US will trade places when President Barack Obama meets Manmohan Singh in early November.
The global financial crisis, say sources, has changed the way the two countries are dealing with each other. It is New Delhi that has a larger political and strategic agenda in mind. Washington is focused on economic and business transactions.
Because of the constraints the US is facing, sources said, Obama’s journey to India will “not be a big bang visit” but will be very important. Relations have already been transformed as far as New Delhi is concerned. The two countries are more connected, politically and economically, than ever before.
New Delhi’s goal in this trip and in bilateral relations in general is to get the US more directly interested in India’s development in a host of areas from energy to education. “Name the subject and there’s something going on,” said a source. India sees Obama’s trip as being about laying down blocks for the future, part of an incremental deepening of relations.
The two sides are working to complete an export control deal that will lift most of the remaining dual-use technology sanctions that still exist against India. “We want an India-specific review to reflect our relationship — and the Americans agree,” a source said.
India already gets hi-tech clearances from the US faster than Israel. The US clears 98.2 per cent of all Indian technology requirements, a figure comparable to the UK and treaty allies of the US. But India and the US are in agreement that things could be better still.
New Delhi is still getting used to the idea of a Washington that is obsessed with ensuring the US domestic audience sees all presidential actions as supportive of the US economy.
“They have to look more transactional at home,” said the source. But India has said it is ready to hold big-picture political and military discussions. “The agendas have flipped,” said a source.
India will broadly define a successful summit as one where the two countries manage to hold “decent conversations at the highest level on big issues” fundamental to the future of the country. These would include the balance of power in Asia, economic growth and development, energy and others.