Pat from PM, but no love

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By RADHIKA RAMASESHAN in Delhi
  • Published 5.11.08
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New Delhi, Nov. 5: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did not tell Barack Obama Indians “deeply love” him, but he did promise the US President-elect “a warm welcome” in the country.

In his congratulatory message to Obama, the Prime Minister said: “Your extraordinary journey to the White House will inspire people not only in your country but also around the world.”

“I hope you will find an opportunity to visit India soon. A warm welcome awaits you,” Singh added, saying he looked forward to working with Obama. “We have strong ties between our people and I look forward to working with you to realise the enormous potential for co-operation that exists between India and the US.”

A little over a month ago, when Singh met the outgoing President at the White House, he had told George W. Bush: “The people of India deeply love you, and all that you have done to bring our two countries closer to each other.”

Congress spokespersons were asked why the Prime Minister got so effusive about a leader whose approval ratings had plummeted when he was about to demit office.

Bush and Singh had worked closely to seal the nuclear deal, an issue so close to the Prime Minister’s heart that he staked his government on it.

If Singh’s message to Obama was unlike his emotional interactions with Bush, the ruling Congress and the Opposition BJP were not effusive either.

Congress chief Sonia Gandhi congratulated Obama and both parties hailed as “historic” the election of the first black President of the US but were weighing what the regime change would mean for India.

Bush, sources in the Congress and the BJP agreed, meant a lot to both parties. Relations between India and the US got a boost when he was first elected President in 2000. At the time, the BJP’s Atal Bihari Vajpayee was Prime Minister. Indo-US ties reached a high when the nuclear deal was sealed this year.

BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said: “India has to be careful because the Democrats will pressure India to sign the CTBT (Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty).”

Congress sources said that while the deal could not be abrogated, the Democrats might thwart its implementation. Since every nuclear transaction will require a licence from the US government, Washington could leverage its position to pressure India to sign the CTBT, they feared.

Congress sources also pointed out that “a Democrat dispensation tends to lean towards China”.

Other areas of concern were Obama’s hints at third-party mediation on Jammu and Kashmir and curtailing outsourcing of jobs.

Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari pinned his hopes on Indian Americans: “Indo-US relations have grown and consolidated over the last two decades. If there are differing perceptions, we will have to work towards their reconciliation. The Indian diaspora has enough strength to work on the US establishment towards reconciliation.”