It is hard for me to characterize what I am about to write. It is not hard for me to write it anyway.
Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi could not have asked for a better segue than the current diplomatic kerfuffle between India and the United States as he prepares in his mind to become India’s next prime minister. Of course, there is a vast chasm between ambition and reality that he must leap over first. However, in the event that he does indeed become prime minister the state of India-US relations that his administration would inherit might suit his temperament a great deal.
The jousting that is going on between Washington and New Delhi over the Devyani Khobragade case has pushed bilateral relations to their lowest point in a long time. Since 2005, Modi remains disbarred from visiting America under a section of the Immigration and Nationality Act relating to foreign government officials "who have committed particularly severe violations of religious freedom." The 2002 Gujarat riots, under his watch, were the primary cause that triggered this particular section. He may not have articulated them but no one should be surprised if he harbors strong antipathies toward Washington on account of this action.
For its part, the Obama administration should prepare for the eventuality of Modi’s rise and what it might mean for India-US relations, particularly as now debased by the Khobragade case. Any political shift in Delhi has a serious consequence for America’s long-terms strategy in Asia. At the very least, a Modi administration would make the U.S. wait outside the door of his South Block office longer than they are accustomed to.
I would grant you that so far my post reads like one of those contingency scenarios that half-baked strategic minds imagine and discuss. However, given the electoral mood in India this contingency may indeed come to pass. Washington would be unmindful of it at its own peril. I am sure greater minds than mine in the State Department who are certainly paid much more than I am would have thought about what if.
Contrary to some media analysis, which suggests that with Khobragade back home and India having expelled a equivalent US diplomat in retaliation the bilateral tensions will begin to reduce, I think they are likely to linger until the national election in the next four to six months. The case has given the Manmohan Singh government a great political opportunity to reveal its spine in the run-up to the election. A political party as seasoned as Dr. Singh’s Congress Party is unlikely to waste this remarkable political opportunity.
One can reasonably say that the bilateral relations are unlikely to witness any significant improvement before the election. With that as the backdrop, if Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party wins enough to form a government, then the Obama administration can look forward to an even rougher ride. Of course,It is debatable whether in the twilight of his presidency President Barack Obama would particularly worry about the state of India-US relations.
Since we are discussing scenarios, I must briefly point out that waiting to rain on Modi’s victory parade is the Aam Admi Party’s (AAP) Arvind Kejriwal who has emerged as a serious spoiler of the electoral calculus for both the BJP and the Congress. The Congress being the Congress has already started its characteristic campaign to coopt the AAP as much as it can because it knows that Kejriwal can potentially—and pardon my profoundly learned expression—cockblock Modi.
So there. That’s all for now.