NEW DELHI – India is among the few dozen countries, largely clustered in Asia and Africa, where sentiment in favor of the United States actually rose during the administration of George W. Bush. Nonetheless, more Indians favored the election of Barack Obama than they did John McCain. What explains this seeming contradiction?
At the heart of the Bush administration’s success with India was a belief that India was a nation whose rise was beneficial to US interests. This led Bush to seek to adjust the international order to India’s benefit, most notably by negotiating an exemption from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty for India. The net result was a closer Indo-US relationship and a positive view of Bush that overrode unpopular actions such as invading Iraq.
Obama’s election – the success of a member of a non-white minority in the world’s oldest democratic polity – has seized the imagination of many Indians. He is exhorted in the media and among the intellectual classes. Among the most fervent supporters of Obama in the US have been the nearly three million-strong Indian-American community. “You can’t swing a dead cat in the Obama camp without hitting an Indian-American,” said an Obama advisor.
In the run up to the election, many Indians could not believe that an African-American would ever be chosen to reside in the White House. His election inevitably enhanced the standing of the US as a land of genuine opportunity, a nation whose multicultural credentials were as great if not better than polyglot and poly-ethnic India.