By PRANAY GUPTE,
Special to the Sun | February 27, 2011
Sarah Palin’s choice of an international venue to deliver an address on “My Vision of America” is canny. She will speak in March before India’s business, political, diplomatic, academic and media elite at the annual India Today Conclave. The gathering arguably possesses the biggest private-sector megaphone in the world’s largest democracy. And while the delegates may not be a microcosm of the country’s 1.2 billion mostly poor people, they certainly make decisions that matter.
Mrs. Palin’s choice is also shrewd because her visit to India will come barely three months after a celebrated one by President Obama. Her appearance is certain to elicit comparisons, however superficial. A presidential visit, replete with pomp and pageantry, is far more of a visual and verbal feast than that of a private citizen, even if she happens to have been an erstwhile governor of Alaska and a former running mate in an American presidential election.
Nevertheless, Mrs. Palin’s India journey is an important one. For one, Indians would like to hear a clearly defined sense of America’s political and economic trajectory. Mr. Obama’s message during his trip last November was replete with predictable bromides and the usual rhetoric of bilateral friendship. He announced some major business deals that would enhance American exports, but these had been anticipated. Indians were less than happy that, however subtly, the president sought to underscore that, in Washington’s view at least, there was parity between an economy of $1.4 trillion, and a neighboring one – Pakistan – whose GDP is $167 billion.
The Obama Administration’s concept of parity, however, has less to do with economics than with a hope — becoming increasingly vain — that Pakistan will be a robust ally in the global fight against Al Qaeda’s terrorism. Unlike India, whose democracy is loud and messy, and whose economy is on a trajectory of sustained economic growth, Pakistan, also a nuclear power, is clearly a failed state. Even its well-wishers rue that civilian government seems to be imploding. Without America’s economic and military support, the state, which was carved out of the British Raj’s Greater India, would have collapsed a long time ago.
Mrs. Palin will get to see first hand how the politics of the Subcontinent work. She may even want to make an unscheduled stop in Pakistan, which wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
But it is in India that Mrs. Palin is certain to be well received; there will be quite of bit of curiosity, too, since she will be a newcomer — although not a new face media-wise — for Indians. That has little to do with her controversial public persona. Rather, Indians have traditionally looked favorably at Republicans, with the possible exception of Richard Nixon, during whose presidency Washington openly sided with Pakistan as India assisted the former territory of East Pakistan to gain independence from Islamabad and establish itself as Bangladesh. Two years after George W. Bush retired from the White House, he’s still held in high regard in New Delhi on account of his unflinching support for the deal under which India has been allowed to buy equipment for its civilian nuclear program.
The other reason that Mrs. Palin will be warmly received is that Indians like women leaders. After all, the country’s most powerful politician is Sonia Gandhi, president of the Indian National Congress; the INC is the lead party in the coalition that rules India. It has often been said that Mrs. Gandhi, daughter-in-law of the assassinated prime inister, Indira Gandhi, is the person that the current prime minister, Manmohan Singh, consults on every major decision. Mrs. Palin is bound to be impressed by how many women legislators there are in India’s national parliament, and in the assemblies of the countries 28 states and seven federal territories.
The India trip will deepen Mrs. Palin’s geopolitical education about South Asia, a region of enormous possibilities for stronger ties with America. While her visit may be short, she will be meeting the drivers of economic change in a country that once was moribund on account of misguided Fabian socialist policies that spawned a sprawling and corrupt bureaucracy. She will also experience for herself the colors and clangor of
India, an ancient land that is rapidly becoming a hyper modern nation who GDP may equal that of America in the next 50 years.
And Mrs. Palin will no doubt hear from her hosts concerns about the insidiously expanding hegemonic ambitions of China. The irony is that China is both India’s biggest trading partner, and a competitor for political influence in Asia. Should Sarah Palin decide to undertake a presidential run, or even just continue to be an influential public presence in America, she will bring back home with an enhanced sense of the political kaleidoscope of South Asia.
And given her personality, Mrs. Palin most definitely will make friends in India, which has already begun souring on President Obama for his perceived failure to follow through on promises made on his state visit.
Happily, Mrs. Palin will be a political tourist; she will have no obligation to make any pledges, other than of accelerating her personal friendships in a land known for its warmth and hospitality.
Mr. Gupte is a contributing editor of The New York Sun.
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