|By Brian Santhumayor [ Published Date: July 30, 2012 ]|
Washington D.C. - On July 26, Asia Society hosted a discussion with H.E. Nirupama Rao, Ambassador of India to the United States. This discussion was held in light of the recent visit of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to India and the June U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue in Washington which have continued building the recent momentum in U.S.-India relations. The distinguished guests were eager to listen to Ambassador Rao’s update on the progress toward the priorities identified at the Strategic Dialogue, focusing in particular on U.S.-India cooperation on higher education and on efforts to foster greater bilateral trade and investment flows.
H.E. Nirupama Rao has served as Ambassador of India to the United States since September 2011. Ambassador Rao was the Foreign Secretary from 2009 to 2011, the highest office in the Indian Foreign Service. As a long term diplomat for over three decades, she has served in Washington, Beijing and Moscow, including as the first woman to be named India's Ambassador to China. Her other ambassadorial assignments include Peru, Bolivia and Sri Lanka. She was Spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs in 2001, the first woman Indian Foreign Service officer to hold this post.
The Ambassador lauded the Asia Society for its role as a global institution that is deeply committed to the cause of world peace and prosperity. She said, “Over the last five decades, you have been in the forefront of promoting mutual understanding, collaborative activities and strengthening connections among the peoples and institutions of Asia and the United States. It is therefore a special privilege to have this opportunity to share my thoughts on the Strategic Partnership between India and the United States with such a distinguished gathering this afternoon.”
In order to understand what India’s foremost national task is for the foreseeable future, Ambassador Rao reminded the audience that India is an ancient civilization but a young nation. She emphasized the Indian Prime Minister’s statement that “ India's prime national task in the decades ahead is to turn the historic economic gains of the last twenty years into inclusive growth that lifts millions more out of poverty, that revitalizes rural India, that modernizes infrastructure and manufacturing capabilities, that improves agriculture productivity, ensures healthcare and education for all and, that this growth should create a future of opportunities for young Indians who make up most of our demographic today.” She also stressed the need for an international system of governance which is stable, open, and rule-based and encourages the free movement of goods, capital and people.
Ambassador Rao said that India sees the United States as an important strategic partner in India’s task of nation building, both in the pursuit of achieving India’s national development goals and for advancing global peace, stability and progress. She added, “Today, it is the development oriented focus that increasingly animates this ever-growing partnership with the US. And as we seek to build this partnership, we are particularly focused on how we are able to build better lives for the young people in both our countries. People-to-people connections pulsate at the heart of our partnership. It is a relationship that has been described as a “defining partnership” by President Obama, and an “affair of the heart” by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.” The Ambassador alluded to the fact that the remarkable growth, the depth and breadth of US- India engagement is evident in the Joint Statement that was issued after the Dialogue.
She noted her dissent when it comes to voices stating that India-US relations are “oversold” or “‘adrift”. Elaborating, she said, “The compass is set in the right direction for U.S. India’s relationship, the hands on the wheel are steady and mature, the terrain is well scouted, and we have not lost our bearings. The partnership is yielding dividends, which are tangible and affect the lives of our two peoples in a positive manner. This has been driven as a result of intense, high-level engagement between our two governments and exchanges at the people's level.”
Ambassador Rao also pointed out that the United States remains the partner of choice for Indian companies as they look for new technology and capital and that India is now working on a bilateral investment treaty that would enhance transparency and predictability for investors, and support economic growth and job creation in both countries. She reassured the audience that although successive governments have come and gone in India, but the direction of reform has not been reversed, ever. “Do not take us at face value. When the chips are down, our system responds very well. As our Prime Minister told Secretary Clinton when they met in Delhi in May, “the message I would like you to carry is that India remains open, and the climate of reform will not be disrupted.” The India Story is definitely not over,” she said.
To skeptics who question India’s pace of reforms or opening up, she referred to the Indian Prime Minister’s recent comments, “It is necessary that we change the discourse from a critique of an open economy to a critique of what is needed to make an open economy work better for the welfare of the people.” Endorsing the need for consensus building which is key to long term economic success in a democracy, she assured U.S. investors that the Indian economy has the capacity to respond dynamically to the current situation facing it. In response to the sensitive issue of outsourcing (given the current political climate), she recognized that this debate is bound to persist until the U.S. unemployment comes down. However, she pointed out there is a big need for highly skilled manpower in the technology industry and India provides that manpower and that Indian IT companies supported 280,000 jobs in the US last year. She said, “The IT companies have invested more than 5 billion dollars in FDI through acquisitions and green-field projects. The unemployment rate in the tech-space in this country is much lower than in manufacturing and that is where the effort is concentrated we believe today, to get back the jobs in manufacturing to this country.”
Ambassador Rao spoke about the field of education which is a key area where the Indian and U.S. governments have cooperated. Education being an important pillar of the U.S. - India relationship, she noted that both countries have taken several steps to expand the links between their faculties and institutions. “These include the Singh-Obama 21st Century Knowledge initiative, which aims to help strengthen teaching and research in both US and Indian institutions through university linkages and junior faculty development.” The Ambassador said, “Last year in October, we held the first India-U.S. Higher Education Summit in Washington D.C., which laid out a road map for expanding collaborative activities. And in June this year, we held the first India-US Education Dialogue to pursue these ideas further towards implementation, for example in the area of community colleges and faculty development.”
Ambassador Rao further outlined the drivers for India’s foreign policy stating that like for all countries, India’s foreign policy seeks to forge strategies that serve India’s interest, protect its sovereignty and its security concerns, and promote its inclusive, economic development. She also stressed that in the defense of India’s sovereignty and our territorial integrity, India has shown its readiness and capacity to defend our interests militarily whenever the situation has so demanded. She concluded by stating that she was very optimistic about the future trajectory of India-US partnership, which is full of hope, promise and opportunities for the benefit our two peoples.
At the conclusion of her remarks, she fielded a number of questions from the distinguished audience which covered a whole gamut of topics, which included India’s relation with China, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Referring to the India-Afghanistan relationship, she noted that “India's role in Afghanistan is a continuation of her long standing commitment for the well-being of the people Afghanistan. As members of SAARC, India and our other neighbors have a shared future and therefore need to have a much greater stake in the stabilization of Afghanistan. India's assistance of USD 2 billion for developmental activities in Afghanistan in capacity building, infrastructure development, women's empowerment and grass-root mobilization has proven effective and welcomed by the people of Afghanistan.” Answering a question about the role of cooperation that is taking place at a “State level” between U.S. and India, she alluded to the interesting new phenomenon which has been the rise in investments by Indian companies in the U.S., as they look to expand their own markets and operations. She was upbeat about Indian companies who are invested in and operating in, a large number of U.S. states. She specifically mentioned her visit to a facility that was run in Clermont County, just outside Cincinnati, Ohio, by the Tata Consulting Services (TCS), employing largely Americans from the area. “They are not only creating jobs and prosperity but also working closely with local communities,” said Ambassador Rao.
Kudos to the Asia Society, D.C. Chapter for organizing this important event which provided an opportunity for the distinguished audience to meet and hear from Ambassador Rao who eloquently highlighted and discussed the continuing momentum towards building a deeper strategic relationship between U.S. and India.
About The Author
Brian Santhumayor currently works for the U.S. State Department as a Liaison Officer and has won many leadership awards including U.S. President Obama’s Volunteer Service Award, Leadership Award from the U.S. State Department, and a Commendation from President Bill Clinton’s American India Foundation for his leadership. He has published numerous op-eds and articles locally and internationally and served on the board of numerous non-profit organizations for which he has received many awards. He can be reached at email@example.com.
[Disclaimer: Any opinions expressed herein are those of the author and not of his employer or any other U.S. federal agency.]