Obama or McCain – Who Will Be Better For India?

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June 12 – With the Barack Obama winning the democratic seat, and John McCain being his only rival, its time India decided which candidate its going to root for. The next five years are crucial to India-US relations as the world gets smaller and the economies more inter dependant. The Sunday Times of India ran an interesting piece on which potential U.S. president would be best for India. Exercpts –

While Conventional wisdom in Indian circles is that a McCain win will result in a broad continuation of Bush administration policies, including a possible revival of the US-India nuclear deal in the event of a favourable political alignment and atmosphere after the general elections. Beyond that, US-India ties, at least from Washington's perspective, would continue to be largely security driven, subject to conservative impulses arising from fears of an extremist Islamist agenda to India's west and an expanding Chinese influence everywhere. Obama on the other hand promises to be different, he will bring in fresh informed change to the region.

In fact, some of the key players in an Obama administration could well be familiar India hands. Hillary Clinton is still a contender for vice-presidential nomination, and should the Obama-Clinton ticket win, she will definitely be a major player. Those mentioned as Obama's secretary of state include Joseph Biden and John Kerry, both old hands from the Senate with deep interest in the region. McCain too is expected to draw on old hands who will be familiar with the region.

Where New Delhi will also hold its breath (aside from non-proliferation issues) is the approach of the coming US administration to the Islamic world, where the Bush regime is seen to have hit all the wrong buttons. Obama, because of a political vision evolved from a more composite upbringing, has already signalled that he is inclined to engage diplomatically with countries such as Iran, which most "thoroughbred" US politicians treat as an enemy. He was also among the earliest to oppose the war on Iraq and has promised to bring the troops home. Instead, he has indicated that the focus of his war on terror will be Pakistan.

In this area at least, Obama's impulses are more in tune with New Delhi. Despite his abiding friendship with Pakistanis from his collegiate days, Obama appears to view a military-dominated Pakistan and the fundamentalist monarchy in Saudi Arabia with deep distrust. McCain, on the other hand, is the author of the long-running Republican coziness with the fundamentalists and militarists in Riyadh and Islamabad respectively, dispensations that India too has reservations about. Indian officials surmise that a McCain administration will be good for India in terms of bilaterals, but could also mean a world fraught with tension. But then, an Obama administration that backs away and hands over any notional victory to Islamists also cannot be good, they add.

In either event, India, as always, will have to tread carefully and tread its own path.