Vijay Vikram has written a very good post discussing the state of the U.S.-Indian relationship on the main blog. He concludes:
It is likely that the drift in U.S.-India relations will continue should the American electorate return President Obama to power.
That’s certainly possible. Let’s review some of the more contentious issues that have troubled the relationship in recent years. Cooperation on civilian nuclear technology continues to run into problems because of India’s liability law. As Vikram reported, some Americans are annoyed by the decision not to purchase American F-16s, which was informed by Indian concerns that the U.S. relationship with Pakistan will continue to make it an unreliable supplier. There may soon be an agreement to purchase American Apache helicopters, but that doesn’t remove the reason for India’s understandable wariness about the U.S.-Pakistan relationship.
Tension between the U.S. and India over Iran continues, and it would not have been reduced by PM Singh’s attendance at the recent Non-Aligned Movement meeting in Tehran. This is a case where U.S. policy and Indian economic interests are at odds, but it is also one in which Indian public opinion is nonetheless broadly sympathetic with U.S. goals. It still makes no sense to me why the U.S. would want to jeopardize improved relations with India over Iran. As for the so-called “pivot,” India is not terribly interested in acting as a regional U.S. deputy. To the extent that the U.S. tries to define its relationship with India this way, it will probably not find a receptive audience.
Having said all that, is the U.S.-Indian relationship doing that badly at present? To judge from Indian public opinion, the answer seems to be no. U.S. favorability is only at 41%, but that is over three times higher than the unfavorable rating (12%). Among urban Indians, U.S. favorability is 58% and confidence in Obama is at 60%. Overall, 43% of Indians say that U.S.-Indian relations have improved in recent years, which is the view held by 57% of urban Indians. Of course, what the public thinks and how the Indian government views the relationship are not necessarily the same thing, but this generally positive view of the U.S., Obama, and the U.S.-Indian relationship suggests that the relationship may not be as cool as it seems. If Indians are dissatisfied with how Obama has managed ties with India, it isn’t enough to make them prefer someone else. Indians prefer Obama’s re-election 2-to-1 overall, and among those paying close attention to the election Obama’s re-election is preferred 67-23%.
As for Romney and India, it should be noted that the Republican platform included an expanded India plank that expressed an interest in cultivating a good relationship with India. If the U.S.-Indian relationship doesn’t improve under a Romney administration, it won’t be because he isn’t interested in it. However, the Romney campaign is also trying to exploit Obama’s vulnerability on the poor state of U.S.-Pakistan relations, which has led the campaign to talk about showing Pakistan “a little more respect.” By itself that wouldn’t have to have any impact, but taken together with what is likely to be a less accommodating Iran policy with even stricter enforcement of sanctions under Romney it could contribute to a deterioration in relations.