How India-US relations have progressed under the last 5 American presidents

Unlike what it was said, the ‘rule' that Republican presidents are less favourable to India does not hold true any more

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Yet another new American president will take charge on January 20. He or she will be the 45th incumbent but certainly will have an entirely new challenging set-up to cope with.

From India's perspective, this will be an occasion to keep a watch on for both these countries are not just democracies but the reality of the current international system also demands that they work closely with each other.

History of Indo-US relations

A lot of people are feeling apprehensive that a Trump Presidency could be detrimental from India's point of view. Given the brash billionaire's talks of "bringing back the jobs" and "shutting the borders", one might predict a doom's day for India's economy, especially in the field of software services.

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Of course, a Hillary Presidency will make India feel safer but there is no real reason to think that Trump will be harmful.

There was a time when Republican presidents were considered anti to India's interests. The Democrats have been less hawkish in foreign policy and were seen as more favourable. But in the post-9/11 world, that rule doesn't apply any more.

If we look back into the recent past, nobody perhaps has been more pro-India than George W Bush, despite the fact that he is a Republican. So, what really made this turnaround in America's policy towards India under the last few presidencies?

Under Reagan...

The first reason was certainly the Cold War. If we look into the last five American presidencies and how they have treated India, the progress clearly tallies itself with the developments that have happened in the international politics of the time.

To start from Ronald Reagan (1981-88), his presidency roughly coincided with the rules of both Indira and Rajiv Gandhi and the prevailing Cold War had seen the early years of the Reagan era not having a great relation with India.

It was a time when the erstwhile Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan and the Americans were pumping in more and more funds and resources into Zia-ul-Haq's Pakistan to grow a machinery to carry on the fight against the Soviets.

It is not that New Delhi did not have its good moments with Washington during the Reagan days, but all in all the US-Pakistan bond as a geopolitical necessity of the Cold War era did not really allow the two democracies to come close.

Under senior George Bush...

Reagan was succeeded by George H W Bush, a one-time president (1989-93). His presidency did not see any big deal coming through with India for it was too tied up with making peace with the Soviets and fighting Iraq in the Gulf after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. There were also problems elsewhere in Panama and Somalia that the senior Bush was busy handling.

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India, on the other hand, was in doldrums both politically and economically in those days and had very little scope to see beyond the immediate challenges. Even the issue of an American fighter jet refueling in India had snowballed into a big outcry and put the then fragile government of Chandra Sekhar under pressure.

The charges were that the prime minister was bowing before American imperialism while India has followed non-alignment as its principle policy in foreign affairs. Sounds quite vintage in todays' times, isn't it?

Under Bill Clinton...

Senior Bush was succeeded by Bill Clinton (1993-2000), a Democrat who took office since Jimmy Carter. This was a new beginning of sort in the bilateral relation between the two countries, thanks to PV Narasimha Rao's pragmatic foreign policy approach in the post-Cold War era.

India had made some economic and security-related concessions to the US and these helped New Delhi to get closer to Washington compared to what it was during the previous eras.

But having said that, issues like exception under the Pressler Amendment and all had reiterated the fact that the US was not ready to give up its interests on Pakistan no matter what because Islamabad was too valuable a strategic ally to ignore when it came to serving Washington's interests in Asia. However, Clinton's second term was far more favourable from India's point of view.

It was during this time that the removal of Robin Raphel, the pro-Pakistan US diplomat, had done India's relations with the US a world of good. Also, the Clinton Administration had started taking of Pakistan sponsoring cross-border terrorism into India. The signing of the extradition treaty and declaring Pakistan-based Harkat-ul-Ansar as a terrorist organisation by the US impressed India.

However, the Clinton Presidency had imposed sanctions on India after the nationalistic NDA government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee had carried out the nuclear tests in 1998 but those did not last long, thanks to Vajpayee's dynamic leadership and the undeniable reality about India's economic significance.

Under Bush junior...

But the most noticeable turn in India-US relation in history happened during the Presidency of George W Bush (2001-2008). A decade since the end of the Cold War, the US was now leading a word with too many diverse power centres but the clash of the uni-multipolar world culminated into the devastating airstrikes in the US on September 11, 2001.

This one incident had marked a paradigm shift in the USA's policy towards the world and specifically to India and Pakistan. Given Pakistan's proximity with the Taliban and other evil forces based in Afghanistan - a country which the US retaliated against following the 9/11 attacks to nail Osama bin Laden, Islamabad no more remained the blue-eyed boy of Washington.

The rulers of Pakistan were asked to act and as the US was handling things militarily and politically with Islamabad, it flagged off a new era with New Delhi - in terms of nuclear cooperation, energy security, anti-terror cooperation and climate change.

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India's growing economic clout and the common concern of terrorism had really brought the two countries together during the Bush era.

Under Obama...

And then it was Barack Obama (2009-2016). His presidency essentially saw a continuation of the Bush days for India-US relations are no more determined by the party representative who has entered the White House. Obama's times also saw India and US entering several agreements and pacts.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi made special efforts to build bridges with the Americans despite the fact that he was denied visa by Washington in the wake of the Gujarat riots. He never allowed that fact to come between the two countries and made four quick trips to the US in two years after coming to power in 2014.

The Obama Presidency also ensured that it remained close to India to keep a check on China, which was projected as America's new competitor as a tactic to divert the attention from West Asia where Obama's predecessor had made a complete mess.

India and the US are, unlike in the past, are natural allies because of the changing realities of international relations. And it is very much likely that things will remain the same under the next president as well.

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