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INDIA AND THE US POLLS
- India should be happy with the Bush presidency at the moment

The American voters have decided and decisively. President Bush will have a second term. They, and especially middle America, have decided that they like Bush's clarity, simplicity, single-mindedness and lack of intellectual depth and sophistication. They preferred the certainties of his convictions to the complex uncertainties of Kerry.

Many voted against Bush, not because they thought Kerry was right but because they preferred anyone to Bush. This divided American electorate will not quietly revert to ordinary daily lives. They resented the verdict last time. This time they may keep erupting into protest on many divisive presidential decisions.

With Republicans in control over both Congress and Senate, the many millions who voted against Bush can express opposition in two ways: take to the streets in protest, and through the media, many of which were against Bush. Every major presidential decision will receive opposition. A country in which people accept election verdicts and get on with their work might, for the first time, witness polarization on almost every issue. (This is not unfamiliar to us but our political parties, lacking ideological convictions, are always polarized. But they reverse their poles depending on whether they are in or out of office.)

Despite an uncertain mandate in his first term, Bush acted as if he had a clear mandate, not one given to him by a supreme court verdict. Many actions and consequences of the Bush administration decisions drew wide protest. The invasion of Iraq, its poor planning, the deaths of over a thousand American soldiers, the easy dismissal of the need to build cooperation with the rest of the world through the United Nations and the consequent loss of goodwill, the pro-big business and pro-rich policies in relation to the environment, tax rate reductions for the rich, rising deficits as a consequence of tax rate reductions and exploding expenditures, rising unemployment and increasing numbers falling out of health insurance, the loss of personal liberties, the racial and communal profiling ' the first Bush administration was feared and disliked by many Americans for many reasons.

He is almost certain to pursue the same course on issues like support to Ariel Sharon against Palestinian interests, sanctions, boycott and perhaps military action against Iran and North Korea, reducing the status and role of the UN, reducing social expenditures, further increasing defence expenditures. His actions will lead to continuing high oil prices and a weak American economy with high deficits, a declining dollar, unemployment and rising interest rates. Does any of this matter to India'

Some change on Palestine policy can be expected. The root cause of violent and jihadi Islamic fundamentalism is Israeli actions to make a unified Palestine state impossible. The US might now push (especially with Arafat's going) for a settlement on the lines of the Clinton negotiated deal with Barak. He has to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict which embitters Muslims everywhere. If not, the terrorist attacks on Israel will increase. They will extend to other areas as the Islamic diaspora reacts against all perceived exploiters of their co-religionists.

Pakistan will continue getting American financial and military aid. The pressure on President Musharraf will simultaneously increase. Bush will want more pro-active effort to stop terrorism and catch terrorists. As Musharraf tries to comply, conflict within Pakistan with elements in the army and Islamic fundamentalist groups will increase. His position is very vulnerable and the Americans also recognize it. If he loses his position, similar pressure can be exerted on his successor. But they would prefer to deal with him than with a new president. His survival is important for India as well because he seems to have understood that a settlement with India is the only way for the pacification of the warring groups in Pakistan and economic growth.

Bush will now control both Congress and Senate. He will soon have to appoint a new chief justice of the supreme court and other judges. He can influence American policy through these appointments for over twenty more years. If he picks obvious conservatives he will polarize the country further. He may also not get the appointments through because he does not have the requisite Senate majority. The chances are therefore that he will pick people who are nearer the ideological middle. Similarly the second Bush administration will perforce have to build bridges with its European allies who are now mostly hostile. Other divisive issues are getting resolved. Many American states have implemented measures similar to the Kyoto protocol. Stem cell research has been approved of by the Republican-led California. Gay marriage is not a wildly popular issue. On the role of the UN there might be a rethink. While he might continue his opposition to the world criminal court, there might be some face-saving formula on world population control policies that he has opposed in his first administration. He will push for UN restructuring and support a seat for India in the security council.

Iran is the next major Islamic country that Bush might attack in order to disarm its nuclear capability. It might be more an economic attack. Bush may not want an Iranian war so soon. Iran's Islamic ideologues could put their weight behind a global anti-American movement using every possible economic (oil) and military (support to terrorist movements) weapon. Unrest in another major oil-producing country and more unrest in the Islamic world is not in India's interest.

Bush will use every means to improve the US's control over the major oil-producing regions. This is important for American energy security. The invasion of Iraq was a way to gain control over the second largest oil reserves in the world. The effect of this strategy to gain control over major reserves might well be more stable oil and gas supplies and prices. India can only gain from this strategy. If Islamic terrorism is contained by American action, it will also be to our benefit. But the danger is that the short-term consequences of American action to increase control over global energy supplies will be the opposite: increased instability in these countries, most of which are dictatorships. India could also face the wrath of fundamentalist groups, within and from outside, hitting out at any major non-Islamic country.

Bush in a second term will have to act in reducing the deficit. He might do so by reducing expenditures on social security and health, another cause for increasing disaffection in the US. He will encourage the dollar to fall in value. This may be good for India since the economy is now in the investment mode and will need massive imports. We can also expect massive foreign investment. At the lower rupee cost, it will help the Indian consumer because of lower capital costs and hence lower tariffs. The US economy might begin to show growth and increased employment because of the increased government defence expenditures. He is unlikely to be protectionist and India's BPO exports will be unaffected. The American economy will be weaker in the long term. But strong American imports will benefit the world economy. Policies in China and Europe to sustain growth will be the key to India's place in the global economy.

Bush is likely to leave India alone on nuclearization. He will see it as a counterforce to China, a bastion beyond the Arab world and a check on the Pakistani generals.

India should be happy with a Bush presidency for four more years. These are critical years for India's economy and his policies will help us. We must be much more on our guard against terrorism. But the economy and peace with Pakistan must be our focus.

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