Could Obama’s loss be India’s gain?

November 3, 2010

As the pundits predicted, India will have the inauspicious honour of being the first country to host U.S. President Barack Obama following the largest shift in public support away from an incumbent President’s party in over 60 years.
U.S. President Barack Obama attends a DNC Moving America Forward Rally at Cleveland State University in Ohio, October 31, 2010. REUTERS/Larry Downing

But if the results show a clear message of dissatisfaction at Washington from U.S. voters, the fallout once the dust settles on Capitol Hill could well result in good news for India.

Here are three ways that a shift in Washington politics could play into India’s interests:

Republican candidates swept to power in the House of Representatives, and almost squared the Senate, largely on widespread disaffection with the country’s stagnant economy and large unemployment rates. The new-look Congress will feel immediate pressure to tackle these.

Washington is likely to look at stimulating international trade in order to boost the struggling economy. There’s a reason Obama will have representatives from over 200 businesses in tow when he lands in India, and striking lucrative deals for defence equipment and technology sharing is a priority that crosses the party-political divide.

Now the polls have closed, the anti-outsourcing rhetoric that Obama delivered at the stump to woo voters – attracting the ire of India’s business leaders – is likely to subside. Pro-business Republicans blocked anti-outsourcing legislation in Congress in September, and moving forwards, a GOP-controlled House of Representatives will most probably protect the cost-effective practice for U.S. firms that contributes $60 billion to India’s economy.

Moreover, in an attempt to divert attention from the ranks of Republicans moving into their new Congressional offices in Washington, and remind Americans that he is still commander-in-chief, Obama may well look to forge some big-publicity agreements with India, with defence and nuclear deals high on the U.S. agenda, and an endorsement for a permanent Security Council berth is New Delhi’s holy grail.

With his hands tied domestically by looming gridlock in Congress, ground-breaking foreign policy could well become Obama’s success story with the 2012 presidential election in mind.

The embattled President will arrive in Mumbai in three days time, with the scale of voter disaffection fully dissected and understood. A successful trip to India — where he is already held in high regard — could well mark his first step on the comeback trail.

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I know I keep reading about various polls which speak of Obama’s popularity in India.

Why is it then that most people I meet seem to have lost confidence in him and remember the Bush days with nostalgia?

The Security Council berth is already off the mat, with news of his dismissing it just three days before his visit, it certainly is not going to sit well with his hosts.

Even the defence deal is not something which many cheer, for the simple reason that the US has proved time and time again that it is not a reliable partner in delivering the goods. It has often shown a penchant for stopping the flow in mid stream. This is what bothers me about having to depend for supplies on the US. They suddenly pull out some internal legislation under which supplies get discontinued – often even after payment has been made. Even their current ‘staunch’ ally in the WOT, Pakistan, has not been spared – think F-16 deal.

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