Washington, Sept. 26: It was just as well that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh landed at Andrews Air Force base near Washington on his trip to meet US President Barack Obama.
Had his special Air India aircraft made its way to this capital’s gateway airport, Washington Dulles International, he may not have escaped at least one advertisement denouncing his government’s current economic policies, even if he had got into his motorcade right at the foot of the plane ladder and bypassed the airport building as is the norm for VVIP arrivals on official visits.
But the protection afforded by the arrival at an air force base, instead of an airport, will not insulate the Prime Minister from sentiment against an alleged return to failed socialist policies by the UPA government which is boiling over across the US.
He was already told on board Air India 001 on his way here from Frankfurt this morning that governors from 14 American states had written to Obama on Tuesday complaining that “India’s trade and investment policies… threaten the intellectual property rights of US industry and induce barriers to trade”.
The governors asked Obama to convey their feelings to the Prime Minister during the White House summit tomorrow. They wrote that “businesses in our respective states have shared strong concerns that India’s recent policy changes on intellectual property issues will severely impact US businesses’ competitiveness and, in turn, inhibit economic growth and job growth in the US”.
They emphasised that “more specifically, businesses have shared concerns about the implementation of industrial policies that benefit India’s local industries at the expense of US companies… India issued a Preferred Market Access (PMA) policy that imposes local production requirements on certain foreign technology companies. India’s actions on medicines have raised questions about whether the country is striking a fair balance between public health considerations and intellectual property concerns”.
It will be difficult for Obama to ignore the shared resentment against New Delhi’s policies felt across one third to one fourth of all America represented by these 14 governors not only because they complain that US jobs are at stake. That, of course, is a very sensitive issue here, since the huge job losses after the financial meltdown of 2008.
There is a foreign policy aspect to this grievance as well. “Given India’s role as an economic leader amongst emerging economies, there is concern that India’s policies may have a spillover effect to other countries,” the letter added. The governors clearly fear that what India does today, South Africa or Malaysia or Argentina may follow tomorrow.
“We urge you to convey these concerns (to Singh) in an effort to avoid proliferation of unfair trade practices,” they pleaded with the President even as they hoped that “we can build on a long history of economic cooperation between the US and India”.
The governors want Obama to get back to them on the results of his talks with Singh tomorrow on this issue.
What will be painful for the Indian side as their economic policies are discussed at the summit tomorrow is that among the signatories of the letter is Sam Brownback, governor of Kansas and Martin O’Malley, governor of Maryland.
Brownback is no fair weather friend of India. As a Congressman, it was he who took the first steps to dilute sanctions imposed on New Delhi after the 1998 nuclear tests even when Bill Clinton refused to use his discretionary powers to do so.
His legislations in this regard came to be known as the “Brownback amendments”. O’Malley has been exceptionally keen to promote Maryland’s ties with India and he recently led a trade delegation to help achieve this.
The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), the largest association in the US, representing small and large manufacturers in every industrial sector with a 50-states-wide presence here, yesterday announced the extensive advertisement campaign targeting India’s allegedly protectionist policies.
NAM does not use the word “denounce” for India, which it claims is a “friend”. Its campaign is “meant to raise awareness of the need for India to level the playing field for businesses in the US”.
Just as in the capital’s gateway airport, NAM has placed advertisements in influential publications here, including The Wall Street Journal and Financial Times.
Its advertisements in Roll Call and The Hill are designed for maximum results since these publications are read by most members of both chambers of the US Congress. The campaign also includes micro-targeted digital ads in numerous media outlets.
Linda Dempsey, NAM’s vice-president for international economic affairs, was asked during a conference call with reporters today about what measures by India would satisfy American manufacturers.
She said New Delhi should cease and desist from further localisation in the sectors of power, solar energy and communications, where more collaborations with the Americans are obviously on the anvil.
Meanwhile, a summons for Singh from a court in Washington for alleged human rights violations by providing “cash rewards” during counter-terrorism operations in Punjab when he was finance minister in the 1990s appeared to be a storm in a teacup, brewed by elements which want to milk the Prime Minister’s visit for some publicity for themselves.
Sikhs for Justice, an organisation with a presence in New York and Toronto, has become notorious for filing cases against Indians in public life linking them somehow to alleged atrocities against the Sikh community in India.
One of its recent targets was the Punjab chief minister, Prakash Singh Badal, and there have been suggestions that it plans to sue film star Amitabh Bachchan. Courts in the US routinely issue summons on receipt of suits and most countries find it an aberration that it is the responsibility of plaintiffs to serve those summons on the individuals being sued.
By that yardstick, this Sikh organisation’s office-bearers will have to serve the summons on Singh while he is in the US, which will be well nigh impossible given his dual protection by the American Secret Service and his own Special Protection Group.