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Special Report – Indo-US relations


Since India’s independence, ties with the United States have weathered the cold war era, distrusts and estrangement over India’s nuclear program. Relations have warmed up in recent years and cooperation has strengthened across a range of political and economic areas. Though, the relations have not always been cordial.

Historically the relationship between the India, under the British Raj, and the US was not so good. The only significant immigration from India involved Sikh farmers going to California in the early 20th century. Very few American businessmen, tourists, religious seekers and Christian missionaries spent much time in India. Things changed during the 2nd World War when India became the main base for the America, China and Burma in the war against Japan. Thousands of American men arrived bringing in all kinds of sophisticated technology and money. They left in 1945.

After India’s Independence and until the end of the cold war the relationship between the India and the US was often cold and often thorny. This was due to the close association of Pakistan with the United States and Pakistan joining western block in 1954. Indian as an independent state was trying to maximize the autonomy of its decision making power in the international affairs and adopted Non Alignment Policy. While the US, in the name of ending communism, was creating two blocs in the world.

In 1959 the then US president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, visited India to strengthen the staggering ties between the two nations. He was the first president to visit India. During the times of Kennedy in 1961 to 63 India was considered to be a strategic partner and counterweight to the rise of communist china. The Kennedy government openly supported India during Sino Indian war and considered Chinese action as blatant communist Chinese aggression against India. America supplied arms and ammunition to India during the war.

Following the assassination of Kennedy Indo US relations deteriorated and hit all time low under Nixon administration in the early 1970s. Richard Nixon established very close relationship with Pakistan aiding it militarily and economically as India then was seen an ally of Soviet Union. This was further proven in 1971 India Pakistan war when the US openly supported Pakistan throughout the war.

Later in 1974 India conducted its first nuclear test, Smiling Buddha, which was opposed by the US. However India said that the test did not violate any agreement. In the late 1970s under the Morarji Desai led government, which was anti soviet, the relations with US improved. This process continued through early 1980s. However the Bhopal gas tragedy proved an obstacle in the improving relationship and is still seen as an impediment in the bilateral relations.

The relations further deteriorated when nuclear tests were conducted during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s regime. The US strongly condemned the tests and voted in favour the UNSC resolution condemning the tests. Some economic sanctions were also imposed upon India which proved to be ineffective. However, the sanctions were soon lifted.

In March 200 the then US president Bill Clinton visited India giving bilateral relations a push. During the visit the Indo US science and technology forum was established. In the following years the India agreed to close monitoring of nuclear weapon developments in India although it refused to give up its nuclear arsenals. The economic ties since then have improved.

After the September 2011 attacks the US associated closely with India in controlling and policing the Indian Ocean sea lanes from Suez Canal to the Singapore. The US also supported India during 2004 Tsunami in search and rescue operations. An open skies agreement was signed in 2005 enhancing trade, tourism and business. In 2005 both the countries agreed for a civil nuclear cooperation deal. The deal makes India the only country outside of non proliferation treaty that has nuclear capabilities and is allowed to participate in nuclear commerce.

After 26/11 attacks the US sent FBI officials team and helped in the probe by sending investigators and forensic experts. During the times of Bush the relation between the countries was seen to be blossoming primarily on the issues of growing Islamic extremism, climate change and energy security. In 2010 the India and the US formally convened the first strategic dialogue which involved a large high ranking delegation. And India was seen as an indispensible partner. The US is also backing the India’s demand for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. The two countries have also signed a MoU in the field of cyber security.

There was a little disturbance between the two countries when in 2013 an Indian diplomat was detained and arrested. But it was soon resolved when the US president invited the newly elected Indian PM for a Whitehouse visit. Recently, the US president was invited to be the chief guest for republic day celebrations.