India’s New Government Committed to Building Up US-India Strategic Partnership

The Congress party in India has returned to power with a larger share of the vote in the recent parliamentary elections than indicated by pre-election and exit polls. Communist parties, which tried to block the U.S.-India nuclear deal last year, and the right wing Bhartiya Janata Party, the BJP, which attacked the Congress party during the election campaign for being too close to the United States, were both rejected by Indian voters. This has significance for the future of U.S.-India relations.   

May 22, Manmohan Singh took the oath of office as prime minister of India for a second term after his Congress Party's victory in India's 15th parliamentary election.  He is the first prime minister since India's independence leader, Jawaharlal Nehru, to be re-elected after serving a full five-year term.

India's election has broad implications for U.S.-India relations. India sealed a landmark nuclear deal with the United States last year that transformed ties between the world's two largest democracies. But the Communist parties supporting the Congress government in India's last parliament led an extended drive to obstruct the agreement. Finally, they withdrew their support and the government survived with only the support of other regional parties, and the U.S.-India agreement was approved by India's parliament.

In the recent election campaign, an Indian Communist party went to the extent of expressing its intention to revise the civilian nuclear deal with the United States if the party gained sufficient influence after elections. But the communists were routed in the elections.

Michael Barone, a veteran commentator and senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner newspaper, says the results of the Indian elections are very much to the advantage of the United States.  

"That is one of the messages I take from the verdict of the voters of India," he said. “They gave an increased support to Congress party and its coalition which has nearly a majority by itself to govern without the Communists. My understanding is that much of the rhetoric in the campaign by the Communists on the left and by the BJP was to the effect that Congress and Prime Minister Singh was too close to the United States. And I think increase in support of the prime minister's party is an indication that most Indian voters were not of that view, and that they welcome a closer relationship with the United States."

The Congress Party's showing vindicates the prime minister's efforts to deepen a strategic partnership with the United States at a time when the Obama administration is concerned about security in the region, chiefly in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
In his congratulatory message to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, President Obama reiterated that the U.S. would work to "enhance the warm partnership between our two countries".  However, Michael Barone thinks the elections in India are more important to Americans than most of us realize, including perhaps, Mr. Obama. 

"I think President Obama has not paid as much attention to them [India] as I would like to have seen up to this point, but now that India has voted, it provides a good opportunity for him to do so," he said.  "I know Secretary of State Hillary Clinton played a constructive role in her husband's outreach to India when he was president in the 1990s.  I think she knows the issue."

Satish Kumar, a former professor of diplomacy at Jawahar Lal Nehru University in New Delhi expresses hope that the Obama administration will pay attention to India once they straighten out more immediate issues.

"Well, I hope they would pay attention, and I think, they will eventually, when they settle down with some of the more pressing problems which they perceive," he said. "And the most pressing problem in their mind is the question of the militancy in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region. That, in any case, can be handled by the US Administration independently of and in addition to building a very strong and strategic relationship with India."

Satish Kumar says India's ruling Congress Party will be as much committed to intensifying the strategic partnership with the United States as it was previously. 

"Now that the governments in both the countries are more or less settled down, therefore one would expect that there should be no further delay and the U.S. government should come forward and carry forward the process of cooperation in high technology and various other areas with India," he said.

Commentator and political analyst Michael Barone says the United States and India, both have electoral democracies, share strategic interests and moral principles, and are prime targets of Islamist extremists. He says the 700 million voters of India have chosen to be U.S. allies, and the United States should take them up on it. 

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