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Mira Kamdar: Outsourcing India: For Obama and Singh, Democracy Means Business

This article was originally published in The Huffington Post. While the administration rolled out the red carpet to welcome Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Washington this week, the real action wasn't around the elegantly set tables at the Obama's first state dinner. It was across the street at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. That's right: the same folks who are spending millions to fight any government action to prevent climate change are about to be put in charge of the relationship between two of the countries most essential to finding solutions for that and other pressing global challenges. As Robert Blake, assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia put it at an "India Day" celebration at defense and communications giant Honeywell: "The most important part of our relationship is that increasingly governments matter less and less and it's more about empowering the private sector and our businesses, our scientists, educators so that they can all work together to achieve great things." Honeywell's CEO David Cote is the head of the newly expanded India-U.S. CEO Forum, which met during the Indian prime minister's visit. The India side is headed by Ratan Tata, one of seven Indian CEOs who accompanied the prime minister. On Monday, Nov. 23, Prime Minister Singh addressed the U.S.-India Business Council (USIBC); part of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the biggest lobbyist for the U.S.-India nuclear deal, which saw final approval in the last weeks of the George W. Bush administration. In fact, to clear one of the last remaining hurdles of the deal, the Indian cabinet just green-lighted a provision to make immune from liability U.S. nuclear plant builders in the event of an accident. This is no small feat in a country that still hasn't gotten over the Union Carbide poisonous gas leak in Bhopal, the worst industrial accident in history. The bill must still pass India's parliament. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has identified five pillars of the U.S.-India relationship: strategy, agriculture, health care, science and technology, and education. In all cases, the Obama administration is putting the private sector in the driver's seat. As Robert Blake put it at meeting in Washington last Wednesday, Nov. 18: "[T]he Obama administration would really like to do much more to try to engage the private sector, both in private-public partnerships, but also in advising and working with both governments, to see how we can make the private sector portion bring the private sector to the fore in all of these dialogues."

THE INDEX — October 21, 2009

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Jonathan Power: Do a Deal on Kashmir

With parliamentary elections behind it, India shouldn’t be back at square one in its quest to settle the bitterly divisive issue of Kashmir, one that has led to three full-scale wars with Pakistan and that nearly brought the two countries to the brink of nuclear combat.

India missed its great opportunity to resolve the burning dispute with Pervez Musharraf before he was overthrown from the Pakistani presidency last year. According to the British and American diplomats I talked to 18 months ago in New Delhi and Islamabad, a deal was tantalizingly close. One British ambassador told me that India had to make very few concessions to strike a final deal and that the main barrier to the agreement was merely “psychological.”

If Musharraf wasn’t prepared to give away the store, the Pakistani compromises came close to it. But despite the seemingly friendly diplomacy of Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee, the unwarlike prime minister Manmohan Singh and, in the background, (another peace-loving figure) the chairwoman of the Congress Party Sonia Gandhi, India couldn’t bring itself to go the extra mile.

Observers had different explanations for Indian intransigence: that Musharraff was trying to force the pace; that the Indian army, the intelligence services, and senior bureaucrats in the foreign ministry were resisting an accord; that the leadership had not made an effort to educate the electorate as the Pakistan government had done; that the prime minister was weak and only focused on the economy; that his (successful) attempt to lower the grinding poverty in the rural areas was also a preoccupation; that the time consuming nuclear deal with the U.S was critically important; and that India rather liked the status quo, since stubbornness fitted in with its self-image of being the subcontinent’s super power.

There was also the failure of the Bush administration—it pushed a deal through Congress that lifted the long-standing embargo on selling nuclear materials and reactors to India—that was, in Singh's words, “loved” by his country. America could have used the muscle afforded by the nuclear deal to instead help push India to sign on to Musharraf’s magnanimous offer.

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