Myself (Pic: By me)
Two factors matter when it comes to the media quoting someone on something: Who is saying it and where it is being said. Sometimes where it is being said may even trump who is saying it. What is being said can often be a poor third in this game. These are just bare facts. It is what it is.
It is from this perspective that I noticed how widely what Michael Crowley, who is a senior correspondent and deputy Washington bureau chief of Time magazine, has said about India has been quoted today by Indian newspapers. Under the headline ‘America’s other India problem’, Crowley has written about the rise of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as India’s potential prime minister and what it might mean for India-US relations. Crowley also touches on the wage and visa fraud allegations involving the Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade. His Viewpoint column talks about the “nasty spat” between India and America over the Khobragade case and the bilateral tensions it has caused as well as how it might continue to affect the relations.
"But don’t expect the relationship to rebound quickly," Crowley has been quoted as saying "In fact, the atmosphere could soon become even more tense – over a far more prominent Indian also embroiled in a visa controversy."
That is because if Modi does indeed become India’s prime minister things could get worse. Coming from Time magazine (And that illustrates my point about where it is being said) this obviously carries weight and becomes inherently worthy of being quoted by others. Crowley makes all perfectly reasonable points with which I find convergence.
Reading those though I felt a strange sense of familiarity. I wondered about why they sounded familiar. And then I had my eureka! moment. I wrote about this barely a week ago. Of course, I wrote it in my characteristic mocking tone. It is not my case at all that there is something even remotely path-breaking in my perspective. It is definitely my case that if I had written this for Time or Foreign Policy or The Economist it would have acquired certain sanctity and weight.
While I am on the subject, I have been asking various State Department types for the past three years at least whether there is anyone in the administration who might be thinking about the eventuality of Modi becoming prime minister and what it might mean for India-US relations. I have not been able to get any cogent response other than what collectively sounds to me like “We will cross the bridge when we come to it.” Here is what I posted on this blog on January 11, 2014.
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.