HILLARY CLINTON’S FAREWELL VISIT TO DELHI: FROM PRICKLY ESTRANGEMENT TO EMPATHETIC DIVERGENCE
Author : C.Uday Bhaskar
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
will rank as the most accomplished, poised and successful woman
politician in American history. She has pierced many glass ceilings with
tenacity and grace. She almost made it to the White House and future
sociologists and historians will be able to more objectively assess the
misogyny index that still lurks deep within American society and its
relevance in the Obama-Clinton Democratic party tussle. The U.S.
demonstrated in late 2008 that it had evolved to a point where it could
accept a coloured President but not a woman.
However, South Asia with its distinctive dynasty-cum-family political
ethos is more at home with strong woman politicians and the top
leadership over the decades includes Indira Gandhi, Benazir Bhutto,
Sirimavo Bandaranaike (the world’s first woman prime minister) and her
daughter Chandrika to Sheikh Hasina. Thus, South Asia would provide a
natural comfort zone for Hillary Clinton who has just completed a
whistle-stop visit that took her from Beijing to Dhaka to Kolkata before
she arrived in Delhi for high-level meetings with her Indian
counterpart on Tuesday.
Clinton is no stranger to India and has visited many parts of the
country — both as the U.S. First Lady and now as the Secretary of State.
Paradoxically, even though she was not in the political loop at the
time, her husband Bill Clinton (the U.S. President in 1993) castigated
India for its nuclear profile and heightened the estrangement between
the two democracies.
However, to his credit, the same Bill Clinton led the rapprochement with
India in March 2000 and this was given a dramatic fillip in the second
term of President George Bush in July 2005. Progressively, the
bi-lateral relationship moved from prickly estrangement over the nuclear
issue to one of greater dialogue, leading to a nascent partnership.
Divergences do exist but they have been handled with empathy — till now.
On what has been billed as her farewell visit to Delhi, one of the more
contentious divergences looms large — it is presumed in an unintended
manner. An Iranian trade delegation arrived in India on the same day
that Clinton touched Kolkata (on Sunday) and the symbolism is stark. The
U.S. is encouraging Delhi to reduce its hydrocarbon dependence on Iran —
as it has with many other nations – and June 28 is the date when
Washington DC will impose a range of strictures and penalties on the
Given its energy vulnerability, Delhi has conveyed its inability to
comply with this U.S.-led diktat and has indicated that while it will
respect all U.N. resolutions on the subject, it has a divergent
perception about how best to deal with the Iranian nuclear nettle. The
Indian position on Iran is more in consonance with that of Russia and
China and the issue cannot be reduced to a binary “with us-against us”
reminiscent of September 2001.
India’s political constraints are compounded by a technical factor,
wherein many Indian refineries have been designed for Iranian crude
which has a distinctive chemical composition.
Can India and the U.S. embed their divergences in the larger spectrum of
corresponding strategic and security interests? From the Mumbai
terrorist attack of November 2008 (where U.S. citizens were also killed)
to the future of the Af-Pak region after 2014, the security of the
global commons and the management of a ‘rising’ China – the issues are
varied and offer a mix of challenges and opportunities.
Clinton’s acumen and patience will be sorely tested on this visit and
perhaps the Myanmar model may have some cues on how to deal with the
Iran imbroglio. It may be recalled that India and the U.S. had very
divergent positions on how best to deal with the military junta in
Yangon — and now a modus vivendi has been carefully arrived at.
But irrespective of the outcome of this visit, Hillary Clinton’s
contribution to India-U.S. bi-lateral ties warrants appropriate notice
and commendation. Notwithstanding the many disappointments and political
shenanigans on the Obama watch, she has steadfastly built on the
foundation laid by her able predecessor Condoleezza Rice.
Estrangement, it is hoped, has given way to a more abiding empathetic
texture in the bi-lateral relationship and it is a rare moment in the
diplomatic trajectory of the world’s oldest and largest democracies.
(This article first appeared in Reuters Blog on May 7, 2012.)