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India Leans Toward Bush Re-Election, say Analysts

The relationship between India and the United States has improved significantly in recent years and analysts say New Delhi would like President Bush re-elected so warming bilateral ties will continue. But that opinion may not be reflected among common people.

In the corridors of power in New Delhi, smiling officials use a common cliché to describe India-U.S. relations: "ties have never been better." Indeed the distance that marked the Cold War years between the world's two largest democracies, and the chill that came in after New Delhi's 1998 nuclear tests, is now forgotten.

Indian analysts give much of the credit for that to the Bush administration. C. Raja Mohan, foreign affairs expert at New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University, says the Bush administration smoothed the path toward better relations by lifting sanctions imposed after the nuclear tests, and taking an even-handed approach toward South Asian rivals India and Pakistan.

"I think the sense is we have done more political business with the Bush administration in the last three years than in the previous 30 years and that is the big difference," he said. "On a whole range of issues the Bush administration is likely to give more space for India whether it is the nuclear issue or on the regional questions, India-Pakistan related issues, the Bush administration has been far more pragmatic and sympathetic in terms of dealing with India's concerns."

Since the U.S.-led war against terror began in 2001, Washington has stepped up cooperation with India, which also sees itself as a victim of terror. Counter terrorism agreements have been inked. Military cooperation has been enhanced and for the first time the two countries have held joint Army, Air Force and Navy exercises. They have also signed a strategic partnership pact that will give India access to advanced technology it has long wanted for its nuclear energy and space programs.

Strategic affairs analyst at the independent Center for Policy Research, Bharat Karnad, says New Delhi does not envisage major changes with a Democrat administration, but foresees a smoother ride with the Republicans under President Bush.

"The Republican regimes generally tend to, at least of late, have been more helpful toward India in terms of trying to make India a strategic partner and so on," said Mr. Karnad. "The Democrats on the other hand have always had non-proliferation on their minds, and that has worked against India's interests."

Politics is not the only concern. Trade is also on India's mind. The country's booming information technology industry, which has taken a lot of American jobs through low-cost outsourcing work, has a stake in the U.S. presidential race.

The IT industry believes its interests may be better served by President Bush, who supports continued outsourcing as an ultimate benefit to the American economy. While Democratic Party presidential candidate John Kerry says he plans to plug loopholes that encourage U.S. companies to move jobs overseas. That has raised concern that the Democrats may follow a more protectionist trade policy.

Kiran Karnik, President of the National Association of Software and Services Companies, admits some worry if Mr. Kerry is voted to power.

"Yes we have some concerns," he said. "During his campaign he [Kerry] did make a few statement that caused some concern here. But you know as a vibrant democracy we are well aware of the kind of rhetoric that elections campaigns do generate and as far as his final position would be if he does come to power…. We are fairly confident he will see the virtues of free trade in this area."

However support for President Bush is much less visible on the streets of New Delhi, which saw widespread popular opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

Whatever the outcome, India wants to keep its relations with the world's most powerful democracy on an even keel as it seeks to raise its profile in Asia and the world.