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Hiddayat Dar asked: What are the trends in India-US relations post-Devyani Khobragade episode? What could be its possible negative fallout?

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  • Saroj Bishoyi replies: Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade’s arrest, strip search and indictment by the US authorities, has negatively impacted what otherwise has been a burgeoning Indo-US strategic relationship. The immediate impact was on regular bilateral engagements, such as the postponement of the India-US Energy Dialogue initially scheduled to be held in January 2014, on account of rising adversarial perceptions. Perhaps, this also led to the resignation of the US Ambassador to India, Nancy Powell, on March 31, 2014.

    However, on March 11, 2014, India and the US resumed their energy dialogue in New Delhi where the two sides expressed their strong commitment to promoting greater technological and scientific collaboration on energy issues. The two sides also expressed their strong desire to further strengthen the strategic relationship based on mutual interests on other areas too, such as trade, climate change, defence, health, education as well as on regional and global security issues. Earlier, on January 22, 2014, India’s External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid had met the US Secretary of State John Kerry on the sidelines of the Geneva II meeting in Montreux. Reviewing the recent development in India-US relations, they not only underscored its significance but also recognised the necessity to set up institutional arrangements to address issues relating to the privileges and immunities for diplomats.

    In a positive development, the US court dismissed the January 9 indictment against Khobragade on March 12, 2014. But the American prosecutors immediately thereafter, on March 14, filed another indictment against her on charges of visa fraud and accused her of underpaying her domestic maid, which was again resented by New Delhi. So far the issue has not been resolved to the satisfaction of New Delhi.

    However, efforts to normalise the relations continued as the two sides held the sixth round of India-US East Asia Consultations on March 28, where senior government officials from both sides discussed maritime security, combating nuclear proliferation, and expanding regional trade in the Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor and beyond.

    While in India general elections are underway, the US too is looking forward to mid-term elections due later this year. This means that there will not be any substantive development in the bilateral relationship until the next government takes over in both the countries. However, the two countries cannot afford to overlook the relationship for a long time, given the congruence in their strategic interests on a wide range of issues. In addition, both the countries have heavily invested in diplomatic and political capital over the last one decade in improving the relationship.

    Though the relationship is clearly going through a tough time, yet it remains a very important one for both the nations. Despite existing differences over trade, visa rules, nuclear liability, security and other issues, the core objective of India-US strategic relationship remains very strong. The differences can be resolved through established joint mechanisms, such as the India-US Strategic Dialogue. Once the dust settles down both in New Delhi and Washington, the two sides will most likely sharpen their focus on key issues of shared interest, and make vigorous and substantive efforts to take the relationship to its rightful place. It is in the respective national interests of both the US and India to build a strong strategic relationship in the twenty-first century.

    Posted on April 21, 2014