In a freewheeling interview to an Indian news agency, United States President Barack Obama has come out with quite a few homilies for India. Conceding that Indian economy “continues to grow at an impressive rate” and that its slackened growth rate reflects the larger crisis in the global economy, he articulates the concerns of the American business community about deteriorating investment climate in the country. Though he is quick to state that “it is not the place of the US to tell India how to chart its economic future”, he feels that New Delhi prohibits or limits foreign investment in too many sectors such as retail “that is necessary to create jobs in both our countries”.
The rub is that the US president is not willing to translate his words into action. He wants India to open its economy and market for US companies and their products. Yet, he is going an extra mile in protecting US companies competing with Indian ones through discriminatory taxation and regressive immigration policies leading to higher visa rejection rate and increased visa costs. Instead of seeking to reinvigorate the languishing Doha round of trade negotiations at the WTO, it has been almost completely passive and allowed world-trade policies to drift.
The duality of approach is also reflected in the US president’s approach towards India and Pakistan. While endorsing India’s opposition to third-party intervention in resolution of Jammu and Kashmir and other bilateral issues with Pakistan, he wants India to fast-track the joint dialogue process with Pakistan. Yet, he is silent on open patronisation of fundamentalist terror groups by Pakistan’s ruling establishment in planning and executing operations against India. Washington continues to fund Pakistan despite irrefutable evidence that such funds are diverted to supporting non-state agencies engaged in terrorism against India, Afghanistan and other neighbours. In an election year domestic political compulsions might explain some of Obama’s recent utterances, but the president must learn to practise what he preaches.