India and the United States of America, being the two largest democracies of the world, have time and again undergone different statures of bond ever since colonial India had been on her struggle for independence.
As such, Indi a emerged to be a successful democracy much later than the already democratic and powerful US; however, in the contemporary times, the geopolitics has evolved in such a way that none of the two nations can ignore one another, which certainly can be reckoned by the recent visits of Modi followed by Trump, engaged in extending friendship between the two nations like never before. If one keenly observes the ‘Howdy Modi’ event followed by ‘Namaste Trump’ extravaganzas, one will know why.
Well, as of now, how long this warm cordial friendship between the two nations would continue to prevail would soon be revealed in a couple of months from now. However, if one retrospects this relationship, it can be counted in different phases of both ups and downs in the past.
To begin with the pre-independence era, India’s struggle for independence had indeed caught America’s attention as the latter also didn’t favour colonialism since America herself had been a British colony once. Franklin D Roosevelt, the then President of anti-colonialist America, supported India’s independence albeit on moral and strategic grounds. However, after the outbreak of the Second World War and Japan’s growing imperialism in Asia, America’s position remained unclear with its subscribing to the British view.
However, the initial years of India’s independence saw great heights of support from the US when India was in need due to famine wherein the Truman’s India Emergency Food Assistance Act 1951 came out as a helping hand to needy India. Not just this, India’s Green Revolution having been inspired by Norman Borlaug changed the entire scenario, which prevailed then into an affluent India.
However, in bipolar politics, India refrained herself from making direct involvement. But India seemed slightly inclined towards the socialist ideology. No doubt, there stood genuine reasons as America’s freestyle market capitalism created suspicion in many of the Indian elites including Prime Minister Nehru. Knowing that imperialism or colonialism was nothing but the cause & effect of capitalist ideology, hence, nations like India had the fear of the powerful colonialist countries such as the USA that they might recolonize the newly independent countries.
The US continued to support India during the Sino-India war in 1962. It was also because China was a closer ally of the Soviet Union carrying similar ideology of Communism. But, Nehru’s Non-Aligned policy in search of strategic autonomy unfavoured America’s scheme of geostrategic balancing in Asia. No doubt, in retrospection for India, it’s worth mentioning that NAM indeed played a significant role in sustaining India’s sovereign democracy though then India’s economic and strategic insignificance followed a new gap in the relation of the duo.
Secondly, the relationship post-1962 didn’t go well with the flourishing bond amongst US-Pakistan-China. India, however, signed the Indo-Soviet Peace, Friendship & Co-operation Treaty in 1971. Notwithstanding, India was never critical against Soviet’s invasions in Hungary, Czechoslovakia and later Afghanistan in 1979. Such instances certainly added impediments in the already deteriorating relation.
Following this, America turned her support for Pakistan in the Bangladesh liberation India-Pakistan war of 1971. Nixon, the then President of the US, even dispatched aircraft against India. Moreover, taking advantage of the ideological rift between the two great communist nations – USSR and China, USA in 1972 tied hands with China. As seen so far, for the USA, dictatorial-ship of Pakistan and Communist China was more acceptable than democratic India. This certainly proves Henry Kissinger’s saying – “America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests.” The major setback in India-US relations happened to be because of India testing her first-ever nuclear power, which was against the nuclear treaties formulated by the US. Eventually, India signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1978.
The entire global geopolitics changed after the collapse of the USSR; the cold war ended and the world order moved towards unipolar where the USA stood as the only superpower. Both India and Russia had no choice but to have better relations with the USA. India’s policy began to favour the US so as to have a close alliance. Thus, on one hand, where both India & Russia were trying to get closer to the USA, while on the other hand there emerged a rift between India and Russia.
Thus, in the early 90s, India, on one hand, lost her Soviet ally, while on the other hand, it was undergoing a serious economic crisis. This was the period when Dr Manmohan Singh serving the portfolio of Finance Ministry initiated the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) to reform India’s economy, which was successfully followed by gradual economic reforms on the liberal lines. With this, America’s growing interest was obvious as India opened a huge middle-class market. And it is needless to say that geopolitical and strategic purposes and economic reasons are the two major factors guiding the US policies.
Another series of intensive engagements took place between India and US in 1998 when India again tested her nuclear program but this time, sanctions were put by the US. No matter, it was later justified as a measure of deterrence by India against the already nuclear power China. The very next year followed the Kargil War when it was thought that the US and China would take sides for Pakistan, but fortunately, it didn’t happen. So, instead, Pakistan was asked to withdraw her army by the US. Henceforth, with the beginning of the new century, Clinton’s India visit in 2000 marked the beginning of a new era in the Indo-US relations which was followed by the historic Bush-Manmohan Civil Nuclear Deal signed in 2008. Along with this, the growing bilateral trade between both nations has also ushered in extending their friendship and ties.
However, only bilateral terms aren’t sufficient to understand the relationship as both the nations have also been negotiating in various multilateral forums, be it – in WTO, climate negotiations, and so on. Moreover, there are various other international issues and security concerns, for instance – the USA-Taliban truce following the withdrawal of American soldiers from Afghanistan brings a lot of concern to India, the US-Iran conflict indirectly affects India’s bilateral trade with Iran, et al.
However, the decade marked several instances when the world witnessed euphoric events, be it Modi and Obama both exchanging visits in each other’s country or the very recent visits of Modi and Trump. All these have indeed created positive sentiments among the masses of both the nations and strengthened our ties. Well, the decade as it now ends soon with this friendship reaching a peak and also the US presidential election just a few months away is yet to see whether the India-US relation would continue to prevail or remain under deep reckoning!