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US-India relations aren’t playing out like a bollywood movie

This optimism is predicated on notions of a common political culture (both countries are democracies), some shared threat perceptions (China and jihadist terrorism) and mutual economic interest.

January 23, 2023 / 08:09 AM IST
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, right, and Narendra Modi, India's prime minister, speak to members of the media during a meeting in the Vice President's Ceremonial Office in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021. The White House yesterday called on other countries to help vastly expand production and availability of coronavirus vaccines and treatments in order to end the Covid-19 pandemic.

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, right, and Narendra Modi, India's prime minister, speak to members of the media during a meeting in the Vice President's Ceremonial Office in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021. The White House yesterday called on other countries to help vastly expand production and availability of coronavirus vaccines and treatments in order to end the Covid-19 pandemic.

In American foreign policy circles, where lazy hegemonic assumptions still abound, there is a widespread conviction that the US-India relationship will play out like a Bollywood film: There may be some resistance at the beginning, some friction in the middle and plenty of song and dance along the way, but in the end the protagonists will overcome all hurdles and live happily ever after.

This optimism is predicated on notions of a common political culture (both countries are democracies), some shared threat perceptions (China and jihadist terrorism) and mutual economic interest. The view from Washington appears all the sunnier because prominent Indian-Americans are heavily represented in business, culture and politics — from Google CEO Sundar Pichai and TV star Mindy Kaling to Vice President Kamala Harris.

But this impression has allowed American presidents to take for granted that the relationship with India needs no special tending beyond government-to-government arrangements and the occasional photo-op with the prime minister. Little effort is expended on communicating with Indians; it is assumed that the citizens of the world’s most populous nation will take the trouble, perhaps with the aid of Pichai’s principal product, to inform themselves about American actions that affect their lives.

This failure to communicate is in large part to blame for a growing suspicion among Indians of US foreign-policy objectives. A new survey shows that Indians view the US as the biggest military threat to their country after China — and, even more shocking, put it ahead of Pakistan. Conducted by Morning Consult, a US-based global business intelligence company, the poll also shows Indians are more likely to blame America and NATO than Russia for the war in Ukraine.