India: We Have Arrived
Indian online commentators agree: India has arrived as a superpower.
The signing of a civilian nuclear agreement with the United States has pushed the stock market and national self-esteem to new heights.
"For a country that was widely regarded as 20th century's great disappointment," says Gurchuran Das in The Times of India, "...the 21st has begun rather nicely."
"We now possess nuclear weapons, have a flourishing economy and possess a self-confident people who have beaten back every attempt -- some led by the US -- to contain us," says the Hindustan Times.
Fueling this confidence is the feeling that India's soft-power cultural strengths have gotten America's respect.
"What is it that drives India and the US closer?" asks the HT. "Perhaps democracy, although a deeper look would also reveal other answers: a shared ethos, an open society, an ability to assimilate diversity, and a keen understanding of what constitutes enlightened self-interest."
Of course, a common mastery of the ultimate in hard power -- nuclear weapons -- does not hurt. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the accord "offered the possibility of decades-old restrictions being set aside to create space for India's emergence as a full member of a new nuclear world order."
India was satisfied with the fine print of the pact, according to the Times of India.
"Reliable sources" told the establishment daily that "14 reactors would be put in the civilian category that would bring them under permanent safeguards while eight would remain in the military category" that will not be subject to inspections. On a key issue, the United States accepted India's refusal to open its fast breeder reactor to international inspections.
Bush is appreciated in the Indian media as the most pro-Indian president ever. He was "accomodative on the the nuclear issue" says Inder Malhotra, a veteran journalist. But as street demonstrations and Bushism jokes suggest, the American president is not wowing the Indian political world in quite the same way that his predecessor did.
In 2000, Indian parliamentarians almost stampeded to shake Bill Clinton's hand after a speech. By contrast Bush's visit has stirred up a "hornet's nest" of verbal abuse in the Indian Senate.
"Iraq has something to do with this," says Malhotra. "So have the threats to Iran. Much more damaging, however, have been TV images of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. "
As always, Indian commentators are wary about America's friendly relations with Pakistan, where Bush travels next. But flush with diplomatic success, the editors of the Hindustan Times prefer to dwell on the positive side of India's ties to the United States.
U.S. aid to India,they note, "left a legacy of the Green Revolution that helped us become self-sufficient in agriculture; American assistance helped fight hunger in the Fifties and Sixties, and its largesse transformed our engineering and management colleges."
Now in 2006, they add proudly, "the Americans want to boost their sagging influence in Asia by coming closer to us."
POSTSCRIPT: A Hindustan Times poll captures India's ambivalence about America: 54 percent of Indians called "close ties with the U.S. a must for India to become a great power" while 51 percent said no when asked if India could trust the U.S. in the long term.
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