US presidential elections: Candidate Clinton, cautious friend of India

  • Pramit Pal Chaudhuri, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Apr 13, 2015 19:41 IST

Polls of the past three months in which US voters are asked to choose between her and a roster of Republican presidential possible, have Hillary Clinton winning in 95% of them.

New Delhi, like most foreign capitals, is probably already wondering what a second Clinton presidency this will mean for their country.

On the plus side, there is no doubt that Clinton has long taken an avid and personal interest in India. Her two visits to India as First Lady led her to become the strongest White House advocate for a full state visit by her husband and then US president, Bill Clinton.

Though there were obviously other drivers, the then US ambassador to India, Richard Celeste, used to privately say it was her telling the president, “Bill, you have got to go to India before your president ends,” that put it on the fast track.

It helped that she was among the first US politicians to recognize the financial clout of the Indian-American community.

Hillary Clinton was also the strongest consistent advocate for India in the first Barack Obama term, say both Indian and US officials. President Obama’s early enthusiasm waned dramatically after the passage of India’s nuclear liability law.

Clinton had a broader agenda that encompassed gender issues, climate change, trade and investment policy, and democracy promotion and continued to woo India.

By the time she resigned as secretary of state, however, even she had wearied of the Manmohan Singh government’s inability to carry out anything. Privately, say US officials, she described India as among her greatest foreign policy “disappointments”.

As secretary of state Clinton never took any steps to reverse the visa ban on Narendra Modi that she inherited, but she and Bill Clinton met Modi when he went to the United Nations General Assembly last year. She has also praised his sanitation and Swaach Bharat programme.

Which is a reminder that Clinton is a pragmatist, much less ideological and more centrist than Obama.

A sex worker’s daughter gives US secretary of state Hillary Clinton a wrist band in Kolkata. (PTI File Photo)

For example, Clinton does not shirk from the use of US military force in the way that Obama does: she was a strong voice in favour of the US military intervention in Libya in 2011.

The Indian government received a dose of her pragmatism during the final rounds of the Indo-US nuclear deal.

At that point, she was a New York senator preparing for her abortive presidential bid and had actively wooed the Indian-American community for funding.

However, reluctant to take a stand on a deal that was so controversial within the Democratic Party, Clinton declined to endorse the deal before the actual Senate vote.

Indian officials were miffed, especially since she was co-chair of the Senate India Caucus. Some still see describe as a “fair weather friend” of India, even while admiring her intellect and ability to grasp policy issues.

A President Clinton can be expected to continue where a second-term Obama administration has left off. And like him, her interest in India will be rekindled because of a Modi government that can put its legislation where its mouth is.

New Delhi will also be helped by the fact, say Washington sources, that two of the front-runners to run her foreign policy – Nick Burns and Kurt Campbell – have been longstanding cheerleades for the Indo-US relationship.

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