Most Indians say 'thumbs up' to second Bush term

India was 1 of only 3 nations where a majority said the world was safer because of his reelection, according to a new poll

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

In New York and Los Angeles, President Bush's inauguration Thursday may have been the occasion for mourning. Latin Americans may have fretted about "los yanquis," and Parisians may have muttered something about civilisation.

Indeed, a new poll found that, in 18 of 21 countries surveyed, more people considered the world to be less secure because of Mr. Bush's reelection.

But not in India. Here, Bush's fresh four years as president of the United States is given a firm thumbs up. And no, that doesn't mean something rude in Indian culture.

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India's reasons for bucking the global distrust-America trend - a phenomenon that largely resulted from America's 2003 decision to launch a preemptive war in Iraq without UN approval, according to recent surveys - say much about how India sees itself in the post-cold war and post-Sept. 11, 2001, world. Based on a combination of business links, immigration trends, shared views on terrorism, and national self-interest, India's increasingly warm approach toward Washington is one of the reasons the US now regards India as a rising global and regional power, and a partner above most other nations in Asia.

"Bush has been good for India," says C. Rajamohan, a political scientist at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. "More has happened between India and the US in the last four years than in the last 40."

Globally speaking, India's attitude is in the minority. According to a poll conducted by GlobeScan, a firm based in London, an average of 58 percent of more than 21,000 respondents said that Bush's reelection was negative for peace and world security. Among those nations with the most negative views were some of America's closest allies: Germany (77 percent), Britain (64 percent), and France (75 percent).

Just under half of all respondents (47 percent) said they now view US influence in the world as mostly negative, while an average of 42 percent said that Bush's reelection had made them feel worse toward the American people. India was one of only two countries where a majority of participants (65 percent) said they felt better about Americans after the reelection of Bush. The other country was the Philippines, at 78 percent.

'This is quite a grim picture for the US," says Steven Kull, director of Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA), a polling company based in Washington that commissioned the survey. "Negative feelings about Bush are high" and are translating into negative feelings toward "the American people who reelected him," he says. "And support for contributing troops to Iraq is nowhere to be found. However, those saying the US itself is having a clearly negative influence in the world still do not constitute a definitive world-wide majority, suggesting there may be some underlying openness to repairing relations with the US."

India has come a long way from the days of the cold war, when many Indians saw the US as a capitalistic and colonialist power bent on dominating smaller nations like the Philippines, Vietnam, and Cuba. Today, as India aspires to be a global power itself - based on its huge consumer economy, advanced technological prowess, and nuclear weapons - many Indians now see the US as a partner with common goals. "George Bush has done a lot to rehabilitate the language of pure national self-interest [here]," says Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president of the Center for Policy Research, an independent think tank in New Delhi. "He says, 'Let's not beat around with a lot of talk on humanitarian norms or multilateralism. Rather it's national interest that is most important.' And that allows India to do the same. It's a realpolitik scenario."

While President Clinton did much to "reduce the poison" of past American policy, in the words of Mr. Rajamohan, the Clinton administration continued to browbeat Delhi about its nuclear-weapons programs and its strong-arm military strategy in its ongoing fight with separatist movements in Kashmir and in the northeastern states. President Bush, by contrast, hasn't backed some treaties that restrict nuclear proliferation - including the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty - and with his administration, the browbeating stopped.

But it was terrorism that ultimately brought Delhi and Washington together, says Rajamohan. "After the attacks of Dec. 13 [on India's parliament building] the US for the first time defined groups based in Pakistan as terrorists. They began to hold Pakistan accountable for their actions."

Saeed Naqvi, a longtime political observer here, says that he has doubts about how representative the PIPA poll is. "I have a feeling that most Indians are neutral about America's role," he says. "The government of India is proceeding cautiously and intelligently, saying no to Iraq, yes to cooperation in the Indian Ocean," referring to ongoing tsunami-relief efforts.

But assuming that the poll is representative, Mr. Naqvi contends that India's positive feelings toward Bush are the result of lack of exposure to global events.

"Any society that has been mobilized by their media has some negative feelings toward America," he says. "But look at India's media. There is not a single Indian news organization represented in Iraq. If you turn on the TV, it's just Laloo and the Shankaracharya," he quips, noting two Indian national figures currently involved in scandals. "It's sheer parochialism."

Pollster Doug Miller, president of GlobeScan, defends his polls results, saying they are consistent with other polls conducted over the past few years.

But he admits that the sample of Indians who participated all came from such urban areas as Delhi, Bombay (Mumbai), Calcutta, and Madras (Chennai), a fact that might skew the findings somewhat.

"The importance of the rural section of the population was something we saw in the last Indian election," Mr. Miller says. Polls conducted in urban areas gave the then-ruling center-right coalition a wide lead over the center-left Congress Party; but Congress won with overwhelming rural support.

Even so, Miller says, "The Indian results did not surprise me, given what we have seen in past polls."

Yet while Indians seem to support the overall war on terrorism - a war that many here say mirrors its own war with militants in Kashmir - few Indians are willing to see their country send troops to Iraq. Sixty-seven percent were opposed to sending Indian troops to Iraq, while 18 percent were in favor, according to the poll.

"This puts India in the mid-range of other countries," says Miller. On average, 70 percent of people in other countries surveyed by GlobeScan don't want to send their troops to Iraq.

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