India-US: A race against the clock to seal a historic deal (Yearender - 1)

December 20th, 2008 - 11:28 am ICT by IANS  

Attn Eds: As 2008 draws to a close, IANS will put out a series of yearenders beginning today on a range of national and international issues. This is the first in the series.

Washington, Dec 20 (IANS) A momentous 2008 saw India and the US beating the clock against all odds to seal a landmark civil nuclear deal and forge a strategic partnership amid a history-making race for the White House.When 2007 dawned, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s coalition government faced a Hamlet-like dilemma with its leftist supporters bent on pulling it down if it went ahead with the deal that would end decades of India’s nuclear isolation.

Summer brought more heat with President George W. Bush pushing hard for that “wonderful deal” to leave at last one memorable legacy as he sprinted towards the end of his term and Democrat Barack Obama emerged the leading presidential contender.

With the prospect of a man who had offered “killer amendments” to the US enabling law, the Henry Hyde Act, in the White House adding to the uncertainty, Manmohan Singh found new allies in the Socialists and finally took the plunge.

Appreciating Manmohan Singh’s “commitment and willingness” to put his government on the line, America became India’s sherpa to push the deal through the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).

And, at home, all the president’s men led by his doughty Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice set out to soften the opposition on Capitol Hill with the powerful Indian-American and business lobbies, eyeing a $150 billion nuclear pie, also putting their shoulder to the wheel.

Amid a looming depression and a Wall Street meltdown, the nuclear deal was finally done after several tortuous twists and turns just a month before the Nov 4 presidential election that would propel an African American Obama to the White House.

But, even as the deal went through its ups and downs, Washington, recognising India’s emergence as an increasingly important player on the world stage, vowed to keep expanding their relations regardless of the fate of what was touted as the “symbolic centrepiece” of a new alliance.

India and the US agreed to work together in space flights and outer space use and American space agency NASA returned to the moon with its instruments on India’s first Chandrayaan-1 lunar probe mission.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Indian Defence Minister A.K. Antony exchanged visits and the Indian Air Force joined in a multinational Red Flag exercise at the Nellis Air Force base in the deserts of Nevada.

The US offered India a $170-million deal for the sale of Harpoon missiles and followed it up with a still larger $375-million bid for CBU-105 smart cluster bombs.

Even as India and the US failed to bridge their differences over the Doha round of world trade talks, their trade continued to bloom — rising from a mere $13.5 billion in 2001 to over $40 billion in 2007 and was poised to cross $60 billion by the end of 2009.

In the midst of an economic downturn that saw many Indians losing their jobs and returning home, a clutch of 34 Indian companies topped their investment in the US to a whopping $6.2 billion and Air India launched direct flights between New Delhi and New York.

With India’s international profile soaring, Democrats and Republicans alike made a concerted bid to woo Indian American voters with both Obama and rival John McCain hailing growing ties with India and vowing to develop still closer relations with a “natural strategic ally”.

Days after becoming the first Indian American governor of Louisiana state, Bobby Jindal emerged as a rising star of the Republican Party with McCain unsuccessfully wooing him to become his running mate and many touting him as the Republican answer to Obama in 2012.

Obama made former Indian American Sonal Shah, a former Google executive, a member of his transition team charged with crafting the hi-tech policy priorities of his administration. A brewing controversy over her former connection to the US wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) led her to renounce the link.

India gifted $4.5 million to Harvard University to establish a scholarship fund for Indian students in honour of Indian Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen. Renu Khator became the first India-born president of the University of Houston (UH).

A terrible terrorist attack on India’s financial capital of Mumbai that left more than 170, including six Americans, dead brought up a groundswell of support with Bush rushing Rice to New Delhi to show solidarity and Obama backing a country’s right to self-defence in the face of an attack.

With a declaration that the US must keep strengthening its partnership with India to root out terrorism from the world, Obama, who takes over as America’s new helmsman in January with a message of change, promised continuity to India.

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