With US secretary of state John Kerry due to arrive in India today, some observers have wondered why he is not concentrating instead on halting the carnage in Gaza. But others see the visit as recognition of the importance of the relationship between Washington and Delhi, for which the BJP’s election victory has provided the chance of a reboot, particularly after the diplomatic spat earlier this year.
Despite the desperate suffering of the Palestinian civilians who are bearing the brunt of Israel’s attacks, the reality is that Mr Kerry has to fulfil long-standing engagements. The US – and the West in general – has a clear interest in engaging with India and encouraging it to play a greater role in international affairs. Mr Kerry himself noted both the potential and the previous stutters between the two countries, when he said on Monday that this was “a potentially transformative moment [for a bilateral relationship that has] not yet always fully blossomed”.
From the US perspective, a strong and prosperous India will help provide a counterweight to China’s increasing influence. But despite prime minister Narendra Modi’s commanding electoral mandate to pursue economic reforms and the BJP’s absolute majority in parliament, nobody ought to expect that this will happen quickly or easily.
The US must support Indian efforts to meet its potential. These include economic reforms to inject meritocracy into its domestic markets and address the pervasive corruption. Foreign direct investment should be encouraged, which would bring international standards of management into play. The difficulties of this are already clear, with India threatening to derail the biggest global trade agreement in 20 years because it would affect its archaic and inefficient food subsidy programme.
So, too, India has to address issues of social justice, whether it is in the form of social mobility, sexual violence against women or, again, the corruption that means ability and endeavour are not properly rewarded.
India’s foreign policy, which includes meddling in Afghanistan with the goal of needling Pakistan, also clearly needs attention. Delhi can be a powerful force for good in the region and globally if it adopts more mature policies. And on that front, the links between India and Israel could be used to influence Tel Aviv, to the benefit of the Palestinians. India is capable of achieving all this, to the advantage of all its citizens.