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US figures out ‘love-starved’ India
All-year events for happiness

Washington, April 12: If Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrived in Washington apprehensive about the recent twists and turns in Indo-US relations, he will return home satisfied that the single foreign policy priority on which he has staked his prestige and political capital is by no means about to unravel.

The White House, rattled by a series of bumps in the relationship since Singh’s state visit to Washington last November, has concluded that the best way to keep New Delhi happy is to resort to non-stop protestations of America’s love for India in such a way that Indians are constantly reminded that their country is always in the thoughts of President Barack Obama.

As a result, during a 50-minute meeting yesterday between Singh and Obama and at other high-level bilateral meetings that are under way at the time of writing, the Americans have proposed a series of events for the rest of this year which will keep Indo-US relations continuously in the public eye.

These events are designed to give precedence to form over substance so that there is little room for anyone in New Delhi to pause to consider the wisdom of investing in a bilateral relationship which has the appearance of an eternal spring.

About six weeks after the Prime Minister returns to New Delhi on April 17, Washington will play host to another high-profile Indo-US engagement: external affairs minister S.M. Krishna has been invited by US secretary of state Hillary Clinton for a “strategic dialogue” here on June 3 as a follow up to her own visit to India last year.

The state department is determined that Krishna’s visit here must surpass in form — if not in substance — a similar strategic dialogue held with Pakistan in Washington last month so that the Indians have no gripe about any step-motherly treatment by Obama’s people.

The Americans are taking care to ensure that the June 3 conclave is high on sentiment, which the Indians revel in. They have already arranged for Krishna to receive this year’s Distinguished Global Alumni Award of the Dedman School of Law of the Southern Methodist University in Dallas during the minister’s visit.

That is the university from which Krishna obtained his Master of Laws degree in 1959. The award ceremony is being planned as an occasion for both sides to be highly sentimental about Indo-US relations and how much they have changed in half a century since Krishna was a student in Dallas and later in Washington.

The Americans are already stressing that Krishna “is the only person outside the US selected by the awards committee this year” much the same way the White House carried on endlessly that the Prime Minister’s visit here last November was the first state visit under the Obama presidency and that the dinner for Singh was the first state dinner at the White House hosted by the current President.

About three weeks after Krishna is feted, Obama and Singh will be together under the spotlight again to proclaim their eternal friendship when they meet in Toronto for a Group of Twenty (G-20) summit.

A few months later, the US President and First Lady Michelle Obama will make their state visit to India: the preparations and the execution of that visit, which will have a historic resonance, it is hoped, will be a celebration of Indo-US friendship, the impact of which will hopefully spill over into the next year.

In case the relationship develops any creases in the meantime, Singh and Obama will have yet another opportunity to publicly rededicate themselves to Indo-US friendship when they are together in Seoul for a second G-20 summit this year.

The Americans are hoping that there will be other occasions in between to remind Indians that their bilateral ties are, indeed, flourishing.

One source present at Singh’s meeting with Obama at Blair House, the presidential guest house, said it was like a symphony with an overture and two movements. One American source said their side was surprised that Singh was more eloquent during the movements of the symphony than on any previous occasion during their six year-long interaction with him as Prime Minister.

A high note was when the Prime Minister told Obama that because all was well in Indo-US relations there was the danger of complacency setting in and affecting friendship.

Another source described Indo-US relations so far since 1999 as a courtship which was now being transformed into a marriage with its advantages and pitfalls.

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