It all began as the “next steps to strategic partnership” (NSSP) after former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee called the United States of America and India “natural allies” whose relations “constitute the key element in the architecture of tomorrow’s democratised world order”. That tomorrow is here, said President Barack Obama on his visit to India this week, dubbing the relations between the two countries as the “defining partnership of the 21st century”. The foundation for the success of the Obama visit to New Delhi was laid by his immediate predecessor, President George Bush, and his Indian interlocutor, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The significance of the visit’s final outcome, as expressed in the joint statement issued by both leaders and, equally importantly, President Obama’s address to the Indian Parliament, lies in the forward-looking nature of these statements. President Obama managed to undo the damage done to the bilateral relationship by his first two years in office, demonstrating that he had been adequately “re-educated” about the significance of what his predecessors were trying to achieve and the importance of US-India strategic partnership. Full marks to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, whom Mr Obama once referred to as his “guru”, for the tutorial he clearly gave the president in those long one-on-one sessions on both days of his stay in New Delhi.
Going forward, both leaders will have to send the message down their bureaucracies that they mean what they have said in the joint statement. There are many areas in which cooperative action would happen anyway, but where government agencies on both sides are involved — as in defence, space, nuclear and agriculture — there has to be proper follow up and pockets of bureaucratic resistance have to be cleaned out for action to follow all the brave talk. President Obama must go home and get the message across to all the India-baiters in his government that he has returned a different man and will not any longer allow them to play their little games seeking to badmouth India. Prime Minister Singh must devote even more time and energy to convince his own party and government about the significance of what he has achieved and what India must do to realise this shared vision of partnership with the United States. India will be on test starting January 2011 when it joins the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member. President Obama has let it be known what he expects from a partner. The prime minister too has been honest and upfront in outlining his vision of the partnership and what India’s priorities are. The most important outcome of the Obama visit has been to dispel forever the lingering doubts about whether Mr Obama is as committed to India as Mr Bush was. Not only has Mr Obama demonstrated that he is but, more importantly, he has shown that he shares the Bush-Manmohan vision, both from his head and heart. India’s main opposition party, the BJP, owes it to the nation to help build a similar national consensus on India-US relations. As a good beginning, in the winter session of Parliament the BJP should whole-heartedly and unreservedly welcome the Obama-Singh joint statement.