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Views from Abroad: India’s Interest in the U.S. Race

by Toni Johnson
May 13, 2012

Red Fort during full dress rehearsals for Independence Day celebrations in New Delhi, August 13, 2004. (Kamal Kishore/Courtesy Reuters) Red Fort during full dress rehearsals for Independence Day celebrations in New Delhi, August 13, 2004. (Kamal Kishore/Courtesy Reuters)

On this week’s views, we head to India for an interview with New Delhi-based C. Raja Mohan, an expert in U.S.-India relations, discusses the U.S. presidential campaign from an Indian perspective. He says India’s “chattering classes” are taking a general interest in the campaign and there is a growing awareness that U.S. political developments can affect Indian interests, particularly policies on China, Pakistan, and other issues crucial to Delhi. Here is part of what he had to say:

President Obama had a highly-publicized visit to India in November 2010, stressing trade between the two largest democracies. Did this visit enhance Obama’s standing in India? How is he regarded now?

Within the Indian elite there has been a great admiration for Obama as a historical figure in the evolution of the United States. But within the strategic establishment there was much concern that Obama might return to the old policies of meddling in Kashmir, going soft on Pakistan, and adopting a China-first strategy in Asia. Obama’s visit helped defuse most of these concerns. And the evolution of Obama’s policies toward Pakistan and China have raised hopes for greater convergence of U.S. and Indian interests in the Asia-Pacific and the Indian Ocean. Meanwhile, bilateral trade and economic cooperation has grown substantially.

Is Mitt Romney known in India?

Very little. Some of Romney’s foreign policy advisers are familiar in Delhi, and India is bound to invest in getting to know Romney better in the coming months.

There is regular speculation in India’s press about two Indian-American governors, Bobby Jindal [of Louisiana] and Nikki Haley [of South Carolina], as possible GOP vice presidential candidates. Both Jindal and Haley deny any interest.

There is always great interest in the political advances made by the leaders of the Indian-American community in the United States. But the policy establishment in Delhi knows that neither Jindal nor Haley would want to wear the “India badge” on their sleeves. Delhi is acutely aware of the contributions of the Indian-American community to the improvement of bilateral relations with Washington, but it is conscious of the importance of solidifying India’s outreach to the American political mainstream.

Is there any particular bias in India toward the Democratic or Republican parties?

During the Cold War, there was greater empathy in the Indian political class toward the Democratic Party. Arguably, the political bias in Delhi now favors the Republican Party, which is seen as less protectionist than the Democratic Party. India is more comfortable with the Republican geopolitical appreciation of India’s value in the international system.

Delhi remains wary of the Democratic Party’s foreign policy establishment, given its interventionist impulses, especially the itch to mediate on the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan and its focus on human rights issues. Obama, to be sure, has walked away from the initial temptation to focus on Kashmir and has overruled the non-proliferation community in the United States in his effort to implement the Bush deal on integrating India into the global nuclear order.

Delhi is concerned about muscular Republican policies in the Middle East, which complicate India’s domestic politics.

The entire interview can be read here.

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