WASHINGTON: The US establishment appears to be gearing up for the eclipse of the Congress Party-led UPA government, going by various pronouncements in the administration, in the Congress, and in the media.
Some of this sentiment is reflected in the backsliding in Washington DC over a controversial resolution in the US House of Representatives (H.R 417) that praises the US administration for continuing to deny a US visafor the BJP’s prime ministerial candidateNarendra Modi and urges New Delhi to “to publicly oppose the exploitation of religious differences… especially in the run-up to India’s general elections in 2014.”
Even as the Congress Party was routed in the assembly elections, the so-called semifinals before the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, some lawmakers are having second thoughts about the resolution.
Over the weekend, Ed Royce, the influential chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, came out publicly against the resolution, saying “it weakens, rather than strengthens the friendship between the US and India.”
“Our two nations share many common values and strategic interests. India plays a central role in the Asia-Pacific region, and we must do our part to ensure that India is a centerpiece of America’s rebalance to Asia. The resolution runs counter to all the hard work that the American people, particularly those in the Indian American community, have done to improve the relationship,” Royce said in a statement, without referring to the Modi visa flap or the election results.
Separately, Steve Chabot, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, which has broad jurisdiction for US policy affecting the region, withdrew his name as an original cosponsor of resolution, amid hectic lobbying by the USINPAC, an Indian-American pressure group that believes the House resolution constitutes an unacceptable intrusion into politics in India.
“From now until the elections in India, USINPAC will spare no effort in making sure the US. Congress does not intentionally or unintentionally influence the outcome of India’s upcoming elections. India is a sovereign nation and its citizens have a right to choose their leaders,” the USINPAC said in a statement.
While Royce and Chabot refrained from referring directly to the election outcome or the Modi issue, another ranking member, Eni Faleomavega, made no secret of his view that the resolution was aimed at the Gujarat chief minister and said the US was wrong in pursuing such a policy.
“The timing of the Resolution is unfortunate as it unintentionally invokes the name of the US House of Representatives for purposes of influencing India’s upcoming elections.” Faleomavega said in a statement, maintaining that, “India, like the United States, has an independent and transparent Judiciary and India’s Supreme Court and its Special Investigation Team have not found any evidence against Modi.”
“This is why I believe the US should shift its attitude and engage in dialogue with Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, just as the European Union and the UK are doing, and many other nations around the world,” he argued.
It is increasingly evident that Washington, which had already soured on the UPA government over stalled reforms, is ready to say goodbye to New Delhi’s ruling dispensation. In fact, there may be opportunities to say personal goodbyes this week in South Africa, where the UPA leadership will run into President Obama and his predecessor.
The Congressional Research Service (CRS), which primes US lawmakers about various domestic and international issues, had already spoken last year about the resurgence of the BJP/NDA, although many experts reckon the arithmetic still doesn’t add up to the 272 seats needed to form the next government.
The Obama administration too seems ready to deal with any change in New Delhi, despite the warm top-level engagement between the two leaders. “The United States looks forward to working in close partnership with India with whatever the outcome of that election process will be in terms of the next government that comes into place,” the administration’s new pointperson for South Asia, Nisha Desai Biswal, said in her first meeting with journalists from the region last week.
Although Biswal said there was no change in the US policy on the Modi visa issue, she indicated broadly that were he to be elected Prime Minister of India, there would not be any issue in according him the correct diplomatic privileges, including the appropriate diplomatic visa.
The US industry and business community, smarting under various wrangles with the UPA government, has also indicated that it is looking forward to a new dispensation in New Delhi.