US Secretary of State John Kerry’s arrival in New Delhi this week was marked by a monsoon deluge that left him almost reaching out for his life jacket!
Kerry got a taste of Delhi’s notorious water-logged roads, potholes and bumpy rides, as his motorcade crawled from the airport to his hotel in posh SP Marg area. So much for a regional superpower that claims ‘Sare Jahan Se Accha’ with chest-thumping pride.
At the helm of this pride sits a hapless Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal, who continues to struggle for maintaining control of the state and its dysfunctional Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), entrusted with keeping open Delhi’s road drainage system and infrastructure.
Utter chaos welcomed Kerry as he experienced first-hand the difference between image and reality of India’s proud capital. The story has been repeated over decades and each time the rhetoric of promise for improvement remains the same, with little action to follow.
If John Kerry got to see Delhi’s ‘chalta hai’ attitude, he also got to witness the capital city’s penchant for ‘jugaad’ that saw a full house during his talk in IIT Delhi, despite waterlogging across the city. And, he acknowledged that when he asked with mock admiration if the attendees had reached there by boats.
It is an absolute shame that with all the technology available, the city seems unfazed and unwilling to accord top priority to investment and planning in mitigating this perennial problem during monsoons. Beyond the usual lip service, nothing gets done. The Chief Minister seems to be caught up in his own web of battles with the Lieutenant Governor and the Centre,even as his city continues to suffer from waterlogging in most parts.
So dear John, in our 70th year of independence, all we can say with folded hands and a smile is “Atithi Devo Bhava”, even if we stand in knee deep water as we say it.
To get a taste of India’s deep rooted secularism, the US Secretary of State was scheduled to visit Gauri Shankar Temple, Gurudwara Sisganj and Jama Masjid, but the skies literally poured water over those plans.
Indo-US relations going North
India is fast emerging as a critical factor in the United States’ overall strategic priority and this is reflected in the significant increase in high level exchanges between the two countries.
As John Kerry was visiting India, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar was in the US to sign the crucial Logistics Exchange Memorandum Agreement (LIMOA) with the US Government, that allows militaries of both countries to use each other’s logistics and support services infrastructure, on a reciprocal basis.
The agreement marks a major shift in India’s strategic policy that has so far remained neutral to joining any major defence block or alliance. India recognizes the emerging strategic rebalancing that is occurring across the world and LIMOA will help in extending Indian military influence overseas, while strengthening US operational capability in the Indian Ocean Region, Central Asia and the Middle East.
Working on common interests and concerns
Between the oldest and the largest democracies there are many areas of common interests and concerns that both countries are trying to work upon.
Presently, Afghanistan is a major concern for both the US and India. The US wants to withdraw from Afghanistan at the earliest, but cannot afford to leave a vacuum that will once again bring chaos to that country.
On the other hand, India has had historical ties with Afghanistan, which it wants to maintain while also ensuring emerging of a stronger Afghanistan in a post-US scenario, one that will be progressive and have the internal strength to withstand Pakistani influence to remote control it.
India is critical to the United States as it is the only force in this region that can stand up to China and contain its influence. The $46 billion investment to connect the Port of Gwadar in Balochistan to China, through the disputed region of Gilgit-Baltistan, is raising concerns in India, Iran and the US, all of which remain wary of increasing Chinese influence in South and Central Asia.
Terrorism is now a matter of global concern and Pakistan’s growing reputation as an unofficial patron of state sponsored terrorism is causing big concern in both India and the US.
India has been repeatedly highlighting, with evidence, Pakistan’s support of cross-border terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and has been pushing the US to put greater pressure on Pakistan to back down on its activities in J&K.
The US is responding and the same can be seen in its reluctance to extend the $700 million military aid it promised to Pakistan, unless that nation can prove, through actions, that it will not support non-state actors indulging in terrorist activities in Afghanistan and J&K.
John Kerry’s visit to India is to address those concerns and identify common grounds for both countries to cooperate. The importance attached to the visit is further reflected in the US Secretary of State extending his visit in India by two days before proceeding to China to attend the G-20 meet.
Friendship apart, the US has concerns
While it’s no secret that Indo-US relations are on an upswing, it is also true that the US is concerned about rising cases of religious polarization and caste-based discrimination in India.
The US has been discreetly silent about the agitation in Kashmir valley, but is forced to take note of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch’s observations of human rights violation in J&K and other parts of India.
The rising incidents of violence on account of beef politics hasn’t helped India’s image as a strong secular nation. In fact, John Kerry also pointed out that India must support and encourage freedom of expression, a fundamental right dear to US.
If India is to continue to enjoy international respect as a secular, tolerant and inclusive nation, it will have to get its domestic act together and soon.
And while the centre addresses that, let’s hope Delhi’s CM Kejriwal gets his act together to ensure water logging during monsoons in Delhi is a thing of the past. Let’s walk the talk on ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’.