The pomp and ceremony with which President Barack Obama will host India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at a White House state dinner on Tuesday won’t alter a perception in India that it has lost ground to China in the new Administration’s Asia policy. Many in New Delhi saw President Obama’s performance last week in Beijing as acquiescent toward an emboldened Beijing, New Delhi’s longtime regional rival. And they see India having a diminished role in the economic and geopolitical calculations of Obama’s White House at least in comparison to the centrality it enjoyed in the Bush Administration’s Asia policy.
They may have winced at his blunders in Iraq and elsewhere, but many Indians welcomed President Bush’s embrace, which strengthened ties between the world’s largest democracies to an unprecedented degree after decades of Cold War estrangement. Prime Minister Singh faced opposition at home from parties skeptical of close ties with the U.S., but staked his political reputation on the growing relationship his government was almost deposed by parties of the left protesting a nuclear-technology deal he concluded with the Bush Administration.
“Under Bush, India was being encouraged to be an Asian power,” says Brahma Chellaney, professor of strategic studies at the Centre for Policy Research, a New Delhibased think tank. Implicit in the Bush agenda was the idea of helping a rising India become a democratic bulwark against authoritarian China. Now,” says Chellaney, “Obama sees things through a different prism.”