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Bush?s MARSHALL PLAN

IN TWO days in India, US President George W. Bush made the down payment on his contract to make India a 21st century power. The nuclear separation plan was just the icing on the geopolitical cake. What Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Bush laid out was a comprehensive road map on how the US can propel India into the big league.

india Updated: Mar 04, 2006 01:49 IST

IN TWO days in India, US President George W. Bush made the down payment on his contract to make India a 21st century power. The nuclear separation plan was just the icing on the geopolitical cake. What Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Bush laid out was a comprehensive road map on how the US can propel India into the big league.

Just before he left for Pakistan, Bush explained why he was prepared to do so much for India. Speaking at the Purana Qila, he argued that "the partnership between our free nations has the power to transform the world". He declared that "India's leadership is needed in a world that's hungry for freedom".

The Bush administration had declared its intention to help make India a great power in the 21st century last year. Indian officials admitted that after meeting Bush during this trip, it was evident that at a personal level the US president was "dead serious" about doing what he could for India.

The conclusion of a nuclear separation plan during the trip was a bonus. It takes both countries towards a nuclear deal that could provide a growing Indian economy a much-needed energy buffer.

However, in a break from 30 years of Indo-US arguments about India's nuclear status, Washington initialled a deal that still gave India the option of expanding its nuclear arsenal.

US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said on Thursday that India could even decide to put future breeder reactors on the military list. "Bush's interest is not to constrain India," explained diplomats.

According to Indian officials, what the nuclear deal showed was that the US is prepared to go as far as to modify a pillar of the international system to help India. They note Singh had explained to senator John Kerry last month that the deal was about "establishing trust". Both US and Indian officials argue that the plethora of Indo-US agreements and initiatives signed during the visit was built around a specific goal: helping India grow into a great power. "There is a parallel to the Marshall Plan," said an Indian official, referring to the US programme that rebuilt war-devastated western Europe.

Bush had explained to Singh in July last year that direct aid was out of fashion. Singh, in any case, preferred the US to help India help itself out of poverty. This visit saw the seeds of these first discussions bear fruit:

The issuing of technology licence exemptions for India. Reversing years of a US policy of tech denial, Bush has agreed to develop a "positive list" of Indian firms and agencies which would have automatic access to US know-how. Indian officials described it as similar to the "green channel" in customs. The US will benefit in increased hi-tech exports to India.

The launch of a Rs 1000-crore Agricultural Knowledge Initiative that would knit Indian and US agricultural research networks over a period of years. Bush and Singh see this as an opportunity to launch a second Green Revolution and revive India's flagging farm sector.

The CEO's Forum arose out of a recognition that in today's world investment and trade was driven by the private sector. Roping in top US executives to outline how to accelerate the Indo-US economic relationship was, a diplomat explained, Bush's attempt to "politically direct" US business in India's direction.

The two countries have readied space cooperation for blast-off. Only the failure of Nasa's chief to make this trip stopped a technology safeguard agreement that will allow the Indian Space Research Organisation to tap the billion-dollar US satellite-launch market.

An energy initiative that will see India access US technology to "clean" the high-ash coal that India has in abundance but can use only with difficulty.

The long-term goal of all this, say diplomats from both countries, is to help India achieve the 10 per cent economic growth rate that Singh sees necessary to lift India from poverty and Bush believes is necessary to make India part of the "great power calculus".

All sources agree, however, that the US president is personally excited most by India's democratic polity. As he declared at Purana Qila in his last speech in India, "India in the 21st century is a natural partner of the United States because we're brothers in the cause of human liberty."