Washington becoming strident in economic relations
Travelling across the US as the winter Olympics in Sochi commenced, one was saddened to witness how India's international credibility had been shaken when television audiences across the world saw three forlorn Indian athletes marching without the national flag. India faced this disgrace, thanks to the avariciousness and nepotism of an internationally disgraced Indian Olympic Association. Sadly, this was accompanied by charges of corruption, nepotism, match fixing and worse involving the President of the BCCI. Many Indian friends in the US asked in anguish: "Is there no section of national life left in India which is free from corruption and venality?"
President Obama faces widespread criticism of his foreign and security policies
The mood in Washington, where one had an occasion to meet a cross section of senior officials, business executives, analysts and scholars, was quite different. In marked contrast to the earlier years, I found widespread criticism of the conduct of foreign and security policies by President Obama. The Administration had not just botched up its healthcare programme, but was seen as indecisive and weak in dealing with challenges in West Asia, Afghanistan and the provocations of a jingoistic and militaristic China. President Obama, in turn, is acutely conscious of the mood in the country which wants an end to foreign military entanglements.
More significantly, as the US moves towards becoming a net exporter of energy, thanks to the expanding production of shale gas and oil, the country's geopolitics are set for profound change. Using its leadership in areas of productivity and innovation, the US now appears set to the stage for increasing domination of the world economic order. From across its eastern shores, the US is negotiating comprehensive trade and investment partnerships with its European allies. Across its western shores in the Pacific, the Americans are negotiating transpacific partnerships with Australia, Brunei, Chile, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, South Korea and Vietnam as negotiating partners. While China has informally indicated an interest in joining this partnership, the US will use its influence to ensure that China is not admitted till American political and economic pre-conditions are met.
There is naturally interest in Washington in the forthcoming general election in India. The assessment appears to be that the ruling Congress is headed for a drubbing in the polls. Not many tears will be shed in Washington or elsewhere about this inevitability as the only questions which well-wishers of India ask are how India landed itself in its present morass of corruption and whether a new dispensation, which may be fractious, will be able to restore India to a high growth path. Speaking informally, a senior official recalled that President Obama had described the US-India partnership as "one of the defining partnerships of the world". The official noted that "every meaningful partnership between powerful nations encounters setbacks", adding that such setbacks should be minor compared to the benefits of the relationship and the magnitude of what the two could accomplish together.