RONEN SEN, India’s Ambassador to the United States, maintained that all the recent multi-faceted initiatives which have taken India-US relations to a new, higher plane have been based on the principle of mutual benefit.
In a freewheeling conversation with editors of the Hindustan Times at the HT Building on Thursday, Sen, a key architect of the India-US civil nuclear cooperation deal, spoke at length of his experiences, his vision for India-US relations and why he thought the deal was important.
Sen, the only Indian diplomat to have served as ambassador to Russia, Germany, Britain and the US, has also worked as secretary in the Department of Atomic Energy, apart from a long stint at the Prime Minister’s Office.
Sen moved with ease from domestic politics to the international high table, as he responded to questions and ideas from HT editors. When a glass of water spilt on the table in front of him, Sen laughed it off, saying the Russians believe it to be a sign of good luck.
Sen recounted how he had told US Senators and Congressmen -- who were unsure of how to react when the civil nuclear cooperation deal was first proposed -- to vote for it only if they were convinced it would benefit the US as much as it would India.
The huge bipartisan support in the US Congress for the J Henry Hyde Act is testimony to how effective his interaction with leading US opinion-makers was.
"The deal is just one part of the intensified engagement between the two countries that will help harness high technology to meet the needs of ordinary people, particularly in rural India," said Sen. "It is unprecedented not only in the scope of what it proposed, but also in the way it has changed perceptions about India in the rest of the world."
Sen spoke of the Knowledge Initiative in agriculture as well, "involving not only the governments, but also corporate India and corporate America", as a "technology-driven vehicle that would bring about the second green revolution in India". He listed the tangible benefits that would flow from the $100 million (Rs 450 crore) allocated for the first three years of the Initiative to benefit rural India.
Similarly, he said, "The Science and Technology Agreement with the US seeks to promote research and development projects between the two countries for commercial application."
Sen dwelt upon the employment-intensive aviation sector, poised to dramatically take off after the two countries signed the Open Skies agreement in 2005. Three major US carriers -- Continental, American and Delta -- now operate non-stop flights to India, while Jet Airways is set to begin non-stop operations to the US from August 2007. Air India will also increase the number of flights it operates to cities in the US.
Increased air traffic between the two countries will have multiple spin-offs in the form of employment potential in the tourism, hotel and services sectors, Sen said. "The focus is now on our air cargo sector, since India is a very expensive destination," he said. "The goal of the next phase of engagement in the air cargo sector is to improve efficiency and reduce costs."
Sen touched on every aspect of the bilateral relationship, from defence cooperation (and co-production of hardware outlined in the 10-year memorandum of understanding), to high technology cooperation, from agriculture and cooperation in the Unity of Democracies to cooperation in disaster management. Mutually beneficial cooperation has characterized the bilateral relationship over the 18 months since Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to the US, he said.
India and the US now have a Trade Policy Forum, which the US so far only had with the European Union and China. Sen praised the contribution of the 2 million strong Indian-American community in the US, saying their efforts had helped bring the two countries closer.
"The community has come of age and played a remarkable role in promoting closer cooperation between the world's oldest democracy and the world's largest and fastest growing democracy," he said.