The Challenges Facing Obama in India

Commentary | October 19, 2010

Writing for Mail Today, Kanwal Sibal, a former foreign secretary of India and member of EWI’s board of directors, discusses the importance of President Obama’s upcoming visit to India, explaining the underlying challenges in maintaining this political alliance.

 Obama’s forthcoming visit to India is awaited with muted expectations.  Both sides need a ‘successful’ visit so that the substantial political investment already made in the bilateral relationship is protected.”

Despite Obama’s consistent praise of India’s prime minister, Sibal maintains that there is a disconnect between his actions and his words, specifically in reference to American outsourcing to India: “[Obama] has personally led the charge against American companies practicing outsourcing despite the substantive Indian business links this has created.” Sibal discusses the intricacies of the IT industry explaining that Obama’s criticism has the potential to hinder the bilateral relationship.

“Even if one construes such talk as playing to the domestic gallery at a time of huge unemployment, projecting India as a competitor stealing U.S. jobs advances no core U.S. interest vis a vis India, besides overlooking sizeable job creation by Indian investors in the U.S.” states Sibal.

Another complex aspect of the U.S.-India relationship is the United States’ relationships to China.  Sibal argues that the U.S. needs to acknowledge China’s increasing aggression in the South China Sea and the combined China-Pakistan threat to India.

Sibal concludes: “President Obama’s visit should be genuinely ‘successful’ in mutual interest, but how to ensure this in real substance, not in soaring rhetoric, given the complexities involved, presents a challenge.”

Click here to read Sibal's article in Mail Today (page 12).