21 December 2011

Making India-U.S. Ties a 'Cornerstone of Asia-Pacific Century'

Amid turmoil from Afghanistan to Iraq to Libya, it was a year of consolidation of a strategic partnership between India and the U.S. as they set out to make it "a cornerstone of an Asia-Pacific century".

They exchanged a flurry of visits in diverse areas from business to defence to education to translate the promise of President Barack Obama's trip to India the previous November when he vowed to help in India's growth as a rising power.

 Just a couple of months after Obama endorsed New Delhi's bid for permanent membership of the UN Security Council, India began the new year with an elected non-permanent seat on the international high table after 19 long years and took the rotational chair at the head of the decision making organ of the world body in August.

To be sure, there were irritants too as unhappy over India's nuclear liability regime, the US sought a "level playing field" for its nuclear power companies which saw a billion dollars of business slipping out of their hands after Washington had worked so hard to end New Delhi's nuclear pariah status.

Then as the year drew to a close, India backtracked on its decision to open its retail trade to multi-brand giants like the Wal-Mart and Target days after corporate America had celebrated the Thanksgiving surprise from New Delhi.

The US also lost out in the competition to sell multi-role combat fighters in a $10-billion deal, one of the biggest international deals. Yet India emerged as the third largest buyer of US arms with contracts worth $4.5 billion last year alone in a total of $34.5 billion US sales worldwide.

India too had its share of heartbreaks as a Chicago court cleared Pakistan-born Canadian Tahawwur Rana of a role in the November 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, but convicted him on the charges of helping Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and admitted terrorist David Coleman Headley.

Thousands of Indian students, mostly from Andhra Pradesh, faced an uncertain future with the closure of the "sham" Tri Valley University in California for visa fraud even as the Indian student population swelled to over 100,000, the second largest after the Chinese.

Indian IT professionals too griped about a visa fee hike to pay for increased security to check the inflow of illegal immigrants from Mexico and Indian firms faced increased scrutiny as the rhetoric over outsourcing again gained ground ahead of next year's presidential election.

But Indian Americans thrived as their numbers rose to over three million with the highest median income among the Asian population and an increasing profile in various walks of life from academic to business to political.