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For all Manmohan Singh's best efforts, Washington is looking over his shoulder to the next government
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's farewell call on US President Barack Obama at the White House on Friday brought an important chapter in the history of bilateral relations to a close. The celebratory meeting was unfortunately overshadowed by Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi's public outburst against the government's draft ordinance on protecting parliamentarians convicted of criminal offences. The offhand manner in which the Congress leadership embarrassed the PM has only drawn attention to Singh's rapidly shrinking political stock at home, where he is under ridicule, rightly or wrongly, as a meek subaltern to the Gandhi family. Singh, in contrast, gets a lot of respect abroad.
For one, the PM represents India as a whole when he travels beyond our shores — a fact that seems to have escaped Rahul Gandhi. The international respect for the PM is rooted in the recognition of India's perceived potential to emerge as a large economy and a major power. It was not mere flattery when Obama offered high praise for Singh's extraordinary contribution to the transformation of India-US relations. The tentative outreach to the US under Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and P.V. Narasimha Rao became a bold overture under Atal Bihari Vajpayee. It was Singh who converted the relationship into a genuine strategic partnership.
Singh and Obama have rightly declared that bilateral relations have never been as good as they
are today. They announced the first step towards the construction of a US nuclear reactor in India, identified the principles for stronger defence partnership, and underlined the need for a five-fold increase in bilateral trade to $500 billion. These are good intentions. But there is no denying the American doubt about UPA 2's ability to deliver. Singh knows, more than anyone else, that India could have done a lot more with America in the last four years. What came in the way was the Congress leadership's ambivalence towards the US. With neither a sense of history nor a vision for the relationship, the Congress high command has encouraged Delhi to put some distance between India and America. Together with dysfunctional governance and a new hostility towards domestic and international business, Singh's second term turned the huge US optimism about India into a deep disappointment. Although Obama was too gracious to show it, Washington, like so many other capitals, is looking beyond Singh and awaiting the next government in Delhi to