India adored Edmund Hillary, a New Zealander who conquered Mount Everest in 1953 long before Hillary Clinton came on the scene. That name recognition may have contributed to Hillary Clinton being referred to as “(D-Punjab)” in a memo from Barack Obama’s campaign during their fight for the nomination. As she sets out on her journey to India today in her new capacity as secretary of state, she has as much a hazardous climb ahead of her as Sir Hillary had in the previous century.
The recent elections in India and the United States will have a profound impact on the ties between the two countries. The Bush Administration was ready for a tight embrace of India, but India shied away because of the hesitation of the leftists, who were part of the ruling coalition. But today, when India is ready to move forward with a popular mandate, it appears that it is the turn of the U.S. to backtrack. Priorities seem to have changed on the Potomac. Short-term concerns may well have overtaken the logic for building a long term relationship.
Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton have set the right tone with India, but it is on policy that trouble may arise. The contours of the nuclear agreement with India, in particular, do not fit neatly into the policy framework of the Democrats. In the eyes of some Obama advisers, the nuclear deal was a sellout to India and, given a choice, they would retrieve much of what was negotiated by Bush. But the Obama Administration is committed to the implementation of the deal in a way that it does not hurt the nonproliferation objectives of the U.S. India, on the other hand, wishes to consolidate the gains of the Bush era and build on them.