Boston, July 26: John Kerry is not leaving anyone in doubt about his attitude towards South Asia as he enters the biggest phase of his campaign for the White House. Nor is he hiding behind any diplomatic reserve.
If the Democratic challenger to George W. Bush is elected America’s President in November, India and Pakistan can expect the full weight of the White House to be thrown into getting the two nations to resolve their differences.
That, at least, is the position of the Democratic Party on the opening day of its National Convention here today, as it starts a four-day process of formally nominating Kerry as its presidential candidate for the November election.
The party’s 34-page manifesto — or platform as it is known to Americans — has all of one sentence on India: in its section dealing with “Promoting Democracy, Peace and Security”. And in that prophetic single sentence, India is clubbed with Pakistan.
The platform, which was released yesterday and is most likely to be accepted by the National Convention without changes, says America must work with its “friends” — that is, India and Pakistan — in their efforts to resolve long-standing differences.
The pronounced neglect of India is in sharp contrast to the country’s recent image in the US as a global power in the making and an emerging economic powerhouse.
What is more disappointing, it is a far cry from the Democratic platform in the last presidential election in 2000 with its implicit promise of a new era in Indo-US relations.
“President (Bill) Clinton’s historic trip to India and Pakistan has created new possibilities for dialogue with these countries,” the 2000 manifesto had predicted. “And under a Gore administration, these will be continued vigorously.”
That reference was to the candidature of then Vice-President Al Gore four years ago, when he won the popular vote, but failed to win the presidency at the end of a month-long dispute over the results.
The 2000 manifesto, adopted by Democrats as intense talks on nuclear issues were in progress between then external affairs minister Jaswant Singh and Clinton’s deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott, also said: “We continue to work with India and Pakistan to dampen down a nuclear arms race on the sub-continent and continue to urge them to deal with their differences over their conflict in Kashmir with peaceful means”.
The section on Asia in this year’s platform, albeit short, places a heavy emphasis on China and dwells on the strategic importance of both Japan and South Korea for American interests.
The platform’s position on Taiwan is a virtual repetition of what the Democrats said four years ago: it reiterates the “One China” policy. But the Kerry campaign insists that “we must better engage with China”.
Embarrassed by the dismissive treatment of South Asia in the manifesto, Indian Americans in the Democratic Party are trying to underplay its significance. Kumar Barve, leader of Maryland’s Democratic legislature party, told The Telegraph that party platforms are seldom read by Americans or taken seriously by administrations.
“It is what a President says and does that is important, not what the platform says. In our system, the party has very little power. It does not even choose the presidential candidate. That is done by voters in primaries,” Barve said.
He may well be right. But India will wait to see the proof of the Kerry pudding in the eating if he is elected President in November.