American lawmakers may be fawning over Narendra Modi, but even the rock star Prime Minister cannot change the reality that India-US ties lack a strong foundation.
In 1893, an Indian visitor to Chicago got a standing ovation lasting an unprecedented five minutes when he began his address with the words, "Sisters and brothers of America!" Today, the legendary Swami Vivekananda is long forgotten in America. It remains to be seen how long the US will remember Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who received nine standing ovations and 33 applauses during his address to the US Houses of Congress. Here's a hint: less than a week after the speech, American lawmakers rejected a Bill to recognise India as a strategic and defence partner.
Indians are an easily pleased people. Among them, the Macaulayites – a class of people who are Indian in look but English in outlook – are conditioned by centuries of slavery to be grateful for a pat on the back from their former masters.
Most Indians do not know their history and few learn from them, repeating the same mistakes of their ancestors. Time and time again when foreigners were defeated on the battlefield, they sweet talked their way out of trouble and returned to infiltrate India. Foreign invaders like Muhammad bin Qasim, (who stormed Sindh in 712) Muhammad bin Ghori (who took Delhi in 1192) or the British (who colonised India in the 19thcentury) would never have succeeded had the Indian political and military leadership spurned their offers of friendship and truce.
An alliance with the US would not really be an alliance because the US wants sidekicks, not partners. On the other hand, India is an equal member of the BRICS group which, despite the economic troubles of Russia and China and the alleged infiltration of Brazil by the US, is still a leading global player. India, historically sensitive to racism and colonialism, has welcomed the emergence of the BRICS as a counterweight to the West's new agenda of another round of colonialism.
The reason India is moving westward is China. Beijing seems to be holding on to Pakistan for dear life and opposing India in every area – anti-terror, NSG, you name it. Indian warships are now conducting exercises in Beijing's backyard, in the South China Sea.
But there's another side to the India-China equation. Beijing has ended its support to separatist movements in India. Bilateral trade now tops $80 billion and is growing at a fast clip, largely in favour of China. Both countries even conduct joint military exercises.
The sticking point is the border dispute. If Russia can get China and India to sign a landmark border agreement and demilitarise the Himalayan border, it would have a bigger impact on the globe than the 1978 Camp David Agreement. That pact took place between two bitter opponents – Israel and Egypt – because US President Jimmy Carter kept the talks going for 14 months.
So far, Russia – at least on the surface – hasn't done enough to get China and India to the negotiating table. Perhaps Moscow's attention is focussed on the crises in Ukraine, Syria and Europe. But it should now concentrate on peace between the world's two largest nations. Russia has settled its own disputed border with China and that experience could come handy for everyone involved.
The alternative is that India and China will continue to drift apart from each other. Beijing is also involved in a major standoff with the US military in the Pacific Ocean and the South China Sea. It's the perfect recipe for tensions to spill into direct conflict. That would very likely put BRICS on ice – and lead to the collapse of a platform that Russia was instrumental in constructing.