Bush in India to forge new bilateral links

Enhanced collaboration in the agricultural and energy sectors is on the cards, as well as more trade. But Washington is also aiming for a stable political alliance. Then there is the matter of nuclear energy. With 300 million people going hungry, New Delhi needs help for more rapid development.

New Delhi (AsiaNews/Agencies) – US President George Bush is on his first visit to India, the emerging power that could well rival China, thanks to an annual growth rate of 8%. Goldman Sachs has predicted that by 2032, India will be the world's third largest economy. Indian companies are in evidence around the world on a quest for raw materials. "Some 20% of the world's population under the age of 24 is Indian and 70% of our population is under 36. I am confident our youthful workforce can compete at the global level," said Nandan Nilekani, president of Infosys Technologies, one of India's most powerful software companies.

Until recently, links between the two States were marked by US sanctions, imposed after New Delhi's nuclear experiments in 1998. But with Europe and Japan getting weaker and China getting stronger, India has become a strategic priority for the US, described by Bush as a "country that shares our democratic values and commitment to a multi-ethnic, multi-religious society".

The English language is another point in India's favour: there are more English speakers in India than there are in the United States. In India, services for banks, insurance companies and other American firms have developed: throughout the night, Indians sitting in high glass towers work to respond to queries from bank users and other firms in the United States.

The United States is offering co-operation agreements in agriculture, trade and energy. Meanwhile, a point of controversy remains nuclear collaboration, which entails lifting an international ban on sales of nuclear technology to India. Washington is keen to reach an agreement even if New Delhi refuses to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, but there is opposition to this on both sides. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the prime minister of western Bengal, a communist and member of the government coalition, describes the Bush administration as the world's "most organised pack of killers". But India is also a huge market. Bush is joined by businessmen in a bid to launch more extensive trade links between the two nations. "India's middle class is now estimated at 300 million people, more than the entire population of the United States. India's middle class is buying air-conditioners, kitchen appliances and washing machines, and a lot of them from American companies such as GE and Whirlpool," Bush said recently. In 2005, US exports to India rose by 30%.

For India too, closer links with the United States are held to be important, but the country is moving cautiously. A source from the Indian foreign affairs ministry said: "We can have convergences, but an alliance is more than that." Anyhow, the country cannot afford to waste opportunities for development. It is poor in infrastructure and services – congested roads, lack of drinking water, energy shortage, and struggling airports with personnel continuously in a state of upheaval, to say nothing of a tortuous bureaucracy – and there is a huge gap between the rich and those who go hungry. More than 300 million people live off less than one US dollar a day and around 45% of children under the age of five are malnourished. Downtown New Delhi is packed with western-style restaurants and shops, but in the suburbs, people live in huts made from bamboo cane among the open sewers, with straw mattresses and breeding goats and chickens. Many people who left their villages to flee poverty live like this, but after 20 years, they still do not have a house and are hoping the government will assign a piece of land to them.