High expectations and apprehension are always held together in a curious bond. There is always the fear that the expectations will be belied, hence the nervousness. The visit of Barack Obama, the president of the United States of America, to India has produced an air of anticipation that is laced with cynicism. Mr Obama comes to India in the first half of his term in office and he has not included Pakistan in his itinerary. The Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, has already been a guest of the US president and Mr Singh’s visit was marked by a show of remarkable bonhomie and was heavy with the symbolism of friendship. This friendship demands to be qualified by the adjective, ‘special’, as India, since the presidency of George W. Bush, has been accorded an unprecedented position in the foreign policy of the US. Mr Obama’s arrival in the White House as the head of the most powerful nation in the world has in no way disrupted the terms of this special relationship. On the contrary, both Mr Obama and Mr Singh have worked to further the friendship. Thus the expectation that Mr Obama may come bearing gifts.
The cynicism arises from the objective conditions that will inevitably determine Mr Obama’s priorities in South Asia. His country is yet to come out of the global economic depression. India, on the other hand, not only successfully cushioned the impact of the downturn but has also shed the economic pessimism that was engendered by the economic slowdown. Mr Obama’s visit cannot escape the concern in India about protectionist policies in the US and the strictures on outsourcing. The government of India and businessmen in India will expect to be reassured by Mr Obama on this matter. At a completely different level are India’s fears about the growing aid that the US is giving to Pakistan. Given the history, no one quite expects Mr Obama to suspend all assistance, but owing to the special relationship between India and the US, he cannot remain indifferent to the alarm in India regarding the terror attacks that emanate from Pakistan and the latter’s involvement in the violence in Jammu and Kashmir. These are some of the fears that are compounded by the news of Mr Obama’s recent reversals in the midterm polls.
A realistic view, already articulated in certain quarters, is to lower the level of expectations and not to expect a hamper of Diwali gifts from the US president. This is not to suggest that the symbolic importance of the visit should be underestimated. But India should not expect that its aspiration to gain a permanent seat in the United Nations security council will be immediately fulfilled with US backing. Mr Obama will, for his own reasons, speak against terrorism, including the attacks against India, but this may not necessarily be followed by any substantial reduction in subventions to Pakistan. At a more micro level, the economic ties between the two countries will be strengthened. The visit could thus resemble the curate’s egg more than a package of goodies.