India - US Relations: Historical and in Present Times
STORIES, ANALYSES, EXPERT VIEWS
India, US relations have been a subject of journalists and researchers for a long time. The latest is Seema Sirohi, posted to Washington DC in 1990. In her book Friends with Benefits: The India-US Story (HarperCollins, 2023), she presents a detailed account of the evolution of India-US diplomatic and government-to-government relations since the end of the Cold War.
Evolution of the relationship
Reviewing her book, Sanjaya Baru (political commentator and policy analyst) writes “three things stand out from Sirohi’s painstakingly detailed account of the evolution of the India-US relationship over the past three decades. First, the persistence of Cold War attitudes in Washington DC well into this century. Second, the shadow of Pakistan and China on the American view of India. Third, the role played by Prime Ministers Atal Behari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh, on the Indian side, and Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, on the US side, in redefining the bilateral relationship.”
Two dimensions of contemporary relevance
Sirohi’s account of the 30-year history, says Baru “has two dimensions to it which are of contemporary relevance. First, she shows how systematically both countries managed to construct this relationship over a fairly long period of time, despite frustratingly constant changes in governments and personnel on both sides…….
“Second, Sirohi shows how deftly Pakistani diplomacy managed to keep the United States on its side so that US-Pakistan relations repeatedly threw a spanner in the works of the evolving US-India relationship. This happened with almost every President -- Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Joe Biden, with the singular exception of George Bush Jr….”
Sirohi’s account of the Indo-US relationship is relevant at this time “when doubts have been raised about where it is headed, especially in the context of India’s stand on the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the American attempts from time to time to breathe life into an otherwise testy relationship with both Pakistan and China.”
Thus while “the US-China and US-Pakistan relationship will frustrate India, the India-Russia relationship will frustrate the US. Both countries will pursue an independent foreign policy that may run parallel on many fronts, but not on all.”
Perhaps, concludes Baru “one should thank Vladimir Putin for clarifying many minds in New Delhi, Washington DC and many other capitals around the world. He managed to force the Indian political leadership to clarify the nature of India’s relations with various powers. In dealing with the post-Ukraine world, India has had to carefully define the nature of the relationship it hopes to maintain with various big powers. There is now….greater clarity in major capitals on how India views its relations with the world. India’s adversaries may still try to throw spanner in the works, but we have shown we know how to ride the roller-coaster.”