Headlines Today: She’s one of the top and prominent Indian-American faces in the Obama administration: Nisha Desai Biswal is on her maiden visit to India after being appointed as the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Central and South Asian Affairs. It’s a pleasure having you on our channel this morning.
I’ll begin by asking you about the belief in India that the Indo-U.S. relations have lost steam after the height achieved during the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal. Why has that happened? And do you think the Devyani Khobragade episode just worsened?
Assistant Secretary Biswal: First of all, let me just thank you for the opportunity to come here and to be able to speak with you today. I am so pleased to have the opportunity to come here in Delhi because frankly I think that the relationship between the United States and India is so deeply valued by both of our countries, and there is so much opportunity to continue to grow and expand that relationship, that this has been an important opportunity for me to see some of those areas.
In fact, I would say that as I was in Bangalore just two days ago and meeting with young entrepreneurs, meeting with the GE research facility which is just an incredibly impressive facility, one of the largest in the world for GE, and I had the opportunity to visit ISRO and look at the important work that we’re doing between NASA and ISRO, the space collaboration, that is yielding tremendous benefits not only for the people of India, the people of the United States, but frankly, creating global goods for the planet as we look at joint technology that is providing satellite imagery on climate change, mapping, soils, and weather. I think the possibilities in this relationship are just phenomenal. And I would say rather than a plateau, I see new frontiers that are unfolding in the relationship that are very exciting.
Headlines Today: But do you think that the Devyani Khobragade episode could have been avoided and does the U.S. look at it perhaps in hindsight as a diplomatic faux pas?
Assistant Secretary Biswal: You know, what I would say in hindsight is that it’s been a tremendous learning experience. It’s been a learning experience in terms of the importance of having a very clear understanding between our two systems, a very clear understanding of the expectations that we have of each other, of our people and our institutions and how we can exist within compliance under the law as well as what accommodations we can make for each other within those systems. So I think that we’ve come out of this wiser and more determined to continue to invest in the relationship and ensure that we’re able to move forward.
Headlines Today: Manmohan Singh took the relationship to a high in his first tenure. Unfortunately it didn’t happen in his second tenure. Are you looking forward, is the U.S. looking forward to a change of government in India? And who do you think out of the three contenders that we have at the moment, Narendra Modi, Arvind Kejriwal and Rahul Gandhi would be best placed to take the Indo-U.S. relationship to the next level and look at economic policies, something like FDI in a more structured fashion.
Assistant Secretary Biswal: Come on, Maha. I may be new to the job but I’m not so new as to get myself into the middle of Indian election politics.
I will say as a student of politics in my own country, that I just am deeply fascinated by the Indian system and the amazing spectacle of Indian elections that are some of the most spectacular elections in the world.
I do think that the relationship between the United States and India is one that is valued across the political spectrum in this country, and in my country. And so no matter what the outcome, I know that we will continue to see a strong growth and expansion in Indo-U.S. ties.
Headlines Today: Also one of the major contenders for the PM’s post right now is Narendra Modi and his boycott by the U.S. ended almost after a decade just a few months ago when the U.S. Ambassador met him. If indeed he does become the Prime Minister as he is hoping and pushing towards, will the U.S. be obliged to give him a visa then, because he has been denied that in the past?
Assistant Secretary Biswal: You know I would just say that the United States has welcomed every leader of this vibrant democracy, and that a democratically elected leader of India will be a welcome partner for the United States in expanding this relationship as we move forward.
Headlines Today: A welcome partner means welcome to the U.S. as well?
Assistant Secretary Biswal: Certainly.
Headlines Today: Also, what has changed over the last ten years? Has his human rights record been put on the back burner because he’s had a great political rise in India?
Assistant Secretary Biswal: What I would just say to you is, first of all, that visa issues are handled on a case by case basis. And determinations are made based on the facts of the day and are reviewed at the time that a request is made.
We engage with India across a very broad spectrum of issues. Many many many areas of convergence, but also areas where we may have different perspectives and different opinions. But the beauty of this relationship, of two strong democratic societies, is that we can have frank, mature conversations. We have every hope that India will continue to go down the path of a tolerant, moderate, secular society that stands as a beacon around the world, and we know that that will continue to be the case through successive administrations.
Headlines Today: Many thanks, Nisha, for speaking with Headlines Today. This is Maha Siddiqui in Delhi for Headlines Today.