Prime Minister Narendra Modi's four visits to the US in less than two years has given a much-needed jerk to India's foreign-policy establishment. A paradigm shift is visible in India's dealings with the world's only super power. Suddenly, it looks all the bureaucratic lethargy and political hesitation has gone out of the window and New Delhi only means business. [Why India is becoming a global darling and Pakistan losing out today]
But why did India take so many years to correct its course when dealing with the US? Had India acted on this aspect 50 years ago, history would have been differently written.
Lethargy and inaction in a centrally controlled India ignored vital national interests
One believes the main reason for this much-delayed realisation of the potential of a robust India-US partnership lied in the lack of a vision of India's political class. [3 reasons why India-US relation is flourishing under Modi like never before]
The latter did little in putting into place a mechanism to assess India's national interests regularly, keeping in mind the changing external realities. And this also made the bureaucratic infexible. The net result of which saw Pakistan feeling up the space that India could have utilised to its advantage in strategic affairs.
Look at China, they did not dump US in long run even after fighting---both physically and ideologically
Herein, lies the difference between the Indian and Chinese style of doing things. China had a fierce animosity towards the US and the two sides also saw themselves getting involved in armed struggle over the Korean question in the early 1950s. [Modi in US: June 2016]
Even Mao Ze Dong's son was killed in that war. But that did not stop the Chinese from erasing the gap during with the US in the early 1970s when the Nixon-Kissinger reached out to them (the famous Ping Pong diplomacy and its aftereffect). Beijing did this to keep the ideological foe---the erstwhile Soviet Union-at bay.
India, despite being a democracy like US, continued to ignore it because of ideological reservations
India, on the other hand, was always a democractic state and had no history of political opposition to the US. The two countries had never fought any war but yet, the successive Indian leaderships' harbouring ideological and populist baggage disallowed any pragmatic review of the India-US relations.
Ok, Nehru's romance with ideology could still be forgiven but what was Indira Gandhi doing?
Jawaharlal Nehru could still be forgiven for keeping away from the capitalism for given his political training in a colonised world, his leaning towards Fabian Socialism could be seen as an ideological romance. But just like Michail Gorbachev in the former Soviet Union or Deng Xiaoping in China tried to give the economic and political orientation of their respective countries a fresh face (the former failed in his mission while the latter succeeded but that is a different story), Nehru's powerful successor in Indira Gandhi did not try anything similar in India.
Her act of devaluating rupee vis-a-vis the dollar was not something that augured well for the country's pride and economy. Was that she could do at the most?
History could have been different had Lal Bahadur Shastri continued for a decade
Had Lal Bahadur Shastri been at the helm for a decade, India's politico-economic journey could have been different but he died too soon after taking over, dealing a big blow to the country's future journey.
But Indira Gandhi could have initiated a proactive stance vis-a-vis the US by the late 1960s. But just like US President Nixon and his advisor Henry Kissinger kicked off a new era in their country's relation with the communist China, they had an equal hatred for India's iron lady and it became worse during the Bangladesh liberation struggle when Washington backed Islamabad and event sent its warships to the Bay of Bengal, forcing India to get closer to the Soviets. India's nuclear experiments in 1974 also caused more friction in the bilateral relations.
Indira Gandhi eventually tried to improve relations with Reagan's US in 1980s
Indira Gandhi had tried to improve relations with Ronald Reagan's US after she came back to power in 1980 and later her successor Rajiv Gandhi also took some serious initiatives on this front, but the cumulative effect could only be seen after PV Narasimha Rao, the first Congress prime minister outside the Nehru-Gandhi family took over in 1991.
Narasimha Rao was the game changer for practical reasons
The post-Cold War world order which had started to emerge, accompanied by the new pattern called globalisation, made an erudite Rao grab the essence of the game. His major successor Atal Behari Vajpayee took up the baton thereafter and despite the Pokhran II adventure of 1998, did not let New Delhi's relations with an annoyed Washington go astray. He did his best to make peace with the international fraternity and since former president Bill Clinton's historic visit to India in 2000, things started looking up again.
Indira Gandhi should have warmed up to US in the 1960s but she turned clock back
But the Congress's old lethargy and suspicion about India-US relations came back to haunt the country's national interests after the UPA came to power. Though UPA's prime minister Manmohan Singh did all he could to make the most of India's positive relation with the US and had a good start when he defied the Left's opposition and risked his government's survival to sign nuclear and defence agreements with the latter, but the Congress's old habit of seeing Washington through the prism of suspicion saw him getting stuck in the long run.
Indira Gandhi missed the chance to become India's Deng Xiaoping
Had Indira Gandhi done what Deng did in China by taking forward Mao's pragmatic turn in his country's US policy, India would have benefited---strategically, politically, economically and logistically.
Despite their serious rivalry, the Chinese leadership had never cut off its channels with its US counterpart and succeeded in making a mark on issues like climate change and information technology. India's inflexible 'this or that' strategy, on the other hand, earned it little in all these years.
Had Indira Gandhi not turned the clock back in 1969 to prove her pseudo-socialist credentials to outsmart her political opponents, Modi might had more time to focus on the superstructure than the base.