NEW DELHI — It may be still too early to conclude that there is a definite American tilt toward India, but there are strong signs that Washington is fed up with Islamabad’s obsession with Kashmir that has has forced Pakistan to throw logic and caution to the wind.
American officials went on record to say that their country shares New Delhi’s concern about Islamabad’s games. They said that talks between the two warring neighbors could begin once “conditions were appropriate.” They are not yet so.
This was a clear indication that Washington is watching Pakistan’s continuing support for Islamic militants who are engaged in cross-border terrorism with India. Also, it suggested that Kashmir might be an important, but not a core issue.
Little wonder, then, that the final joint statement between Washington and New Delhi — issued at the end of Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s recent visit to the U.S. in mid-September — did not mention Kashmir at all.
Even more significant was the fact that the statement did not reveal any particular discomfort on the differences between the two nations on nuclear proliferation.
What could be the reason for this turnaround, which analysts have described as “interesting and important” but have stopped short of calling a “tilt”?
This development appears particularly intriguing when one remembers that U.S. President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore were lukewarm to Vajpayee’s predecessors when they visited America.
As much as it is a fact that Islamabad’s moves have been irking Washington for many months now, the fast growing clout of Indian-Americans has, it seems, been tilting the balance in favor of New Delhi.
Economist Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar writes in a column that “migrating Indians have for decades occupied the lower income and social rungs in the West. Foreign countries have long seen Indians as undesirables trying to sneak in. That has changed dramatically with the rise of Indians in Silicon Valley. For the first time, Indians in the West are scaling the highest income and social ladders.
There are about 1.5 million Indian-Americans, many of whom have reached the top in aviation, finance and consultancy. What is more, they have spearheaded an information revolution in Silicon Valley.
Obviously, Indians are now perceived as immensely valuable, not just in the U.S., but in Britain, Germany, France and even in Japan. Of the 200,000 H1-B visas that America plans to issue next year, Indians will probably get half.
Their economic influence is translating itself into political power, and this is the first time that New Delhi can say with some conviction that its people have something outstanding to contribute to its ties with Washington.
Some years ago, India was touted as a vast, untapped market for Western goods. Its exploding middle class — 350 million or so and growing rapidly — was said to have an impressive buying power. But that class turned out to be more conscious of price, rather than quality, and international manufacturers were a trifle disappointed when their goods did not move out of the shelves as quickly as they had hoped.
But the Indian-American effort in the U.S. is a different game altogether, helping as it does a country determined to be a world leader not just in the political arena, but in other turfs as well.
Information technology is one that holds out the promise of pushing up one who masters it into dizzying heights. Indian-Americans have been helping — and in no small measure — their host country to reach such a pinnacle of fame.
And money talks in America.
Indian-Americans have built a very strong political constituency. They contribute to political funds. This is one reason why 118 legislators out of the 435 in the U.S. Congress are now members of the Indian Caucus, and they often guide the State Department and the White House toward taking a pro-New Delhi stand.
A political climate as conducive as this is something that the Vajpayee government must make intelligent use of to clinch points not just in the Kashmir tussle and the Security Council issue (where New Delhi has been seeking a permanent seat), but also in questions relating to economic sanctions and trade embargoes.
India can ill afford to let these barriers continue. And, what is more, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party of Vajpayee must realize that it now stands an excellent chance of striking it big in world affairs.
This is an opportunity that must not be frittered away by indulging in narrow caste/religious bigotry. This must be kept firmly under check if the country is to prosper and progress through a path that the advantageous Indo-U.S. relations have lately carved out.
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