By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 24th Jun 13
A less than full house and an almost empty balcony stared back at John Kerry as the US Secretary of State began his visit to Delhi with a speech at the Habitat Centre on Sunday evening. Even considering the heat, the holiday, and that the Indian cricket team was due to play England in the Champion's League cricket final, it must have been a disappointing turnout.
Kerry, who is on a ten-day tour to Qatar, India, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, Israel and Brunei is in India till Tuesday morning. He is here for the fourth US-India Strategic Dialogue, his first, where he will chair the inter-agency delegation meeting.
While Kerry did not avoid strategic issues, the bulk of the speech related to climate change and economic partnership between "the oldest and the largest democracies." With the strategic dialogue due tomorrow, he pressed all the right buttons, including reiterating Washington's support for India's membership to the Nuclear Supplier's Group; an expanded UN Security Council and the other global non-proliferation regimes.
He reiterated that India was "a key part of the US rebalance to Asia," nodding approvingly at India's growing appetite for US defence equipment by noting that India would soon be the largest operator of C-17 transport aircraft, besides the US Air Force. He noted that this would allow the Indian military to deploy more rapidly in support of strategic aims.
With India having expressed its reservations about the US-Taliban dialogue, and the marginalisation of the Karzai government, Kerry apparently sought to undo some of the damage by backing India for a key role in post-2014 Afghanistan. He declared that India "must play a crucial role in the 2014 elections as the world's largest democracy."
The bulk of Kerry's speech related to climate change and the need for the US and India to work together to tap into "the biggest market on earth", as he referred to the $6-trillion new energy market, including clean energy. He offered assurances that the US is "sensitive to India's unique circumstances," i.e. the apprehension in New Delhi that caps on greenhouse emissions would hinder India's industrial development.
The Strategic Dialogue, inaugurated in 2009, is a forum for discussing the range of US-India bilateral and regional issues.
The discussion on Monday will include bilateral and regional economic engagement, regional security and defence, science and technology, climate change, and global issues such as women's empowerment, non-proliferation and space cooperation.
Besides official engagements, the US Secretary of State will be going on a walkabout in the capital's Lodhi Gardens on Monday.