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    South Asia
     Mar 1, 2005
Hillary Clinton woos India
By Siddharth Srivastava

NEW DELHI - For all those who think that Hillary Clinton isn't gearing up for the US presidential elections circa 2008, they would do well to take a peep at her recent visit to India. She wasn't here as the wife of ex-president Bill Clinton, well known for enjoying India having visited the country several times as president, meanwhile charming a whole lot of Indians.

Hillary was in New Delhi last week in her own right as New York senator and as a person whom India sees as playing an important role in global politics and economics in the near future. She may deny that she aspires to be the Democratic nominee for president and says she is looking forward to standing for re-election to New York in 2006, but the rest of the world (including India) certainly does not perceive her in this light.

Despite busy schedules, including elections to three states and a natural disaster in Jammu & Kashmir to manage, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the all-powerful Congress Party president Sonia Gandhi marked out time for Hillary, who was accompanied by US ambassador to India David Mulford to a number of meetings. An official reception was hosted for her by the Indian government, while she also addressed a conclave of world leaders organized by a leading national magazine. She was followed around by the media, not to cut a decent picture of her for the glossies, but for her views on India-US relations, including burgeoning economic ties, as well as her strict adherence to the principles of free trade and outsourcing that affect India directly. Undoubtedly, the highlight of her visit was the hour-long meeting with Gandhi. The two women placed third (Gandhi) and fifth on the list of the most powerful women in the world prepared by Forbes last year. Everybody, at least in India, expects Hillary to make the dash in 2008 that would surely pitchfork her onto the top position of any list.

During her meeting with Gandhi, Hillary discussed at length the socio-economic issues of both countries. "Both the leaders assessed the growth of India-US ties from [Bill] Clinton's time and how far it progressed. They have also reviewed the socio-economic situation prevailing in the country," a statement said. "It was a nice meeting and both enjoyed it," said an aide to the Indian prime minister following her discussions with Manmohan. "They talked about healthcare, education, India-US relations and South Asia. It was a wide-ranging discussion," the aide said. Manmohan told the New York senator that the Indian people fondly remembered the visit by her husband in March 2000. This marked a "turning point in India-US relations", the prime minister said, and recalled the "warm welcome your husband received" when he addressed the Indian parliament. Clinton said her husband "greatly enjoyed" visiting India and was deeply committed to the HIV/AIDS program the Clinton Foundation had undertaken in this country.

Even as Hillary left India, Democratic Senator Joseph Biden issued the clarion call that any Democrat who wants to run for president in 2008 should keep in mind these three words: Hillary Rodham Clinton. "I think she'd be incredibly difficult to beat," Biden said on US television. "I think she is the most difficult obstacle for anyone being the nominee. She'd be the toughest person and I think Hillary Clinton is able to be elected president of the United States."

It may be recalled that former president Bill Clinton enjoyed close ties to the Indian American community during his presidency. It was he who first actively sought to build bridges as well as cultivate the Indian community in the US, recognizing their numbers - more than 2 million - as well as their immense money-power (read potential campaign fund contributors) as global information technology pioneers.

India's relations with the US were by and large on the ascent under Clinton. Post presidency, Clinton has been closely associated with the American India Foundation and visited India in 2001, as head of an Indian delegation to collect funds for victims of the Gujarat earthquake. There was considerable talk at that time as well that the Clinton visit was a well-orchestrated plan to cultivate the Indian American community to keep them warm for Hillary if the need arose. The 2004 US elections also witnessed Indian-Americans reaching out to Republican George W Bush as a reaction to the virulent anti-outsourcing campaign being orchestrated by former Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.

Further, given the strides that Indo-US relations have taken under Bush, politically, economically and militarily, the Indian community felt much more comfortable in maintaining this continuity. Bush has himself indicated his pro-India proclivities by promising that he will visit the country this year. Hillary surely does not want to lose the momentum built by her husband and wants to arrest any decisive turn by Indian Americans towards the Republicans.

Hillary clears outsourcing air
Hillary Clinton made it apparent where she stood on outsourcing during her India visit, in an attempt perhaps to clear the Indian misgivings received during the Kerry campaign. "There is no way to legislate against reality. Outsourcing will continue," she told an audience of Indian big-wigs. She pointed out that there were 3 billion people who feel left behind and are trying to attack the modern world in the hope of turning the clock back on globalization. "It is not far-fetched to imagine ... if the Indian miracle would be the one of choice of those who feel left behind," said Hillary.

Hillary has been at the forefront in defending free trade and outsourcing. During the height of the anti-outsourcing backlash in the US last year, she faced considerable flak for defending Indian software giant Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) for opening a center in Buffalo, New York. "We are not against all outsourcing; we are not in favor of putting up fences," Hillary said firmly, despite inevitably invoking the ire of the anti-free trade brigade.

Hillary further clarified her position during her recent visit as well as solutions that could be beneficial to both countries. She urged Indian industries to invest more in the US to allay negative outpourings over outsourcing of American jobs to India. "I have to be frank. People in my country are losing their jobs and the US policymakers need to address this issue," she said. She ruled out that the anti-India feeling was a reflexive reaction, and explained that the feeling was more because of the imbalance in trade between the two countries, which in turn caused anguish among Americans about the nature of the economic relationship.

"In 2003, US merchandise exports to India was $5 billion, while India exports to the US was $13.8 billion. Though the US understood that the economic vibrancy of India was in its own interest, there are people who feel left behind and might stir up negative feelings against India because they do not understand the economic benefits of outsourcing," Clinton remarked.

"If the feeling was to be arrested, Indian companies should invest more in the US to create a balance in trade relations," she said. Hillary added that she had personally wooed Indian companies to establish partnerships with American counterparts. "In June 2002, TCS partnered with the University of Buffalo to bring patented research to the market place. I would like to see more of such partnerships," she said.

Siddharth Srivastava is a New Delhi-based journalist.

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