Rajiv Gandhi's `new India'

When Rajiv Gandhi succeeded his mother as India's prime minister last November, political observers were cautious in predicting the course of US-Indian relations because he was then an unknown political quantity. After all, only two years ago a Senate Foreign Relations Committee report had described Mr. Gandhi as a very ``reluctant entrant into the political arena'' who was ``not yet well versed in either Indian or international politics.'' In just six months, India's new prime minister has proved to be a capable and independent-minded leader who is especially popular with his country's young people. I believe that 40-year-old Rajiv Gandhi has begun to create a ``new India'' by cleaning up Indian politics, instituting a new work ethic, and paving the way for technological developments.

This has a direct bearing on US-Indian relations. The United States has a great deal to offer India in the way of private investment and high technology at this critical stage of its development; by contrast, the Soviet Union is not in a position to lend India high-tech support.

In my view, our ultimate goal should be to see Mr. Gandhi realign India with the West. The first step in this process is to influence India to adopt a true policy of nonalignment. It will take a persistent effort to loosen New Delhi's ties to Moscow, which were formalized in the 1971 Soviet-Indian friendship treaty. Mr. Gandhi has recently underscored the difference between India's relations with the two superpowers: He has said that while India has a ``multifaceted'' relationship with the United States, including economic, technological, and cultural cooperation, he ``highly values'' India's ``wide-ranging and time-tested'' relationship with the Soviet Union.

The Reagan administration is wisely encouraging peaceful cultural, scientific, and technological cooperation with India. Prime Minister Gandhi and First Lady Nancy Reagan are the honorary patrons for the 1985-86 ``Festival of India'' -- an 18-month-long celebration of Indian culture which was planned by President Reagan and Indira Gandhi in the summer of 1982. Cultural institutions across the US -- including the Kennedy Center, the Smithsonian Institution, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Asian Museum of Art in San Francisco -- will present major exhibitions of Indian art, music, drama, dance, film, and crafts. This multifaceted program will be an important contribution toward creating better understanding between the peoples of the world's two largest democracies.

US-Indian scientific and technological cooperation are also on the upswing, as a result of the 1982 Reagan-(Indira) Gandhi Science and Technology Initiative. According to the State Department, there are currently 70 projects under the initiative: 26 in health, 25 in monsoon research, and 19 in agriculture. I hope that when they meet this month, Prime Minister Gandhi and President Reagan will extend the agreement, due to expire in October, to keep these worthwhile programs on track.

Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Fred Ikle made a worthwhile contribution to increased US-Indian cooperation by ``unsticking'' the restrictions on dual-use high-tech items during his recent trip to India. I am sure that these efforts have not gone unnoticed by the Soviets, who are diligently pursuing joint Soviet-Indian scientific ventures. Last year an Indian astronaut, Rakesh Sharma, flew in a Soyuz 2 spacecraft along with two Soviet cosmonauts. I was pleased to learn that the US space shuttle will have an Indian on board in 1986.

While I support increased US-Indian cultural and scientific cooperation, it would be a mistake to focus our efforts on military cooperation at this time. India continues to rely heavily on the Soviet Union for the vast majority of its military technology. Although there is now the potential for broader US weapons sales to India, we should not force American weapons on the Indians. Instead, we should simply be prepared to respond to their requests.

From New Delhi's point of view, the main obstacle to closer US-Indian relations is the continued US supply of weapons to Pakistan -- a country that has fought three wars with India. I agree with my good friend Sen. Sam Nunn, who has pointed out that India and Pakistan actually have mutual security interests. As Sam has stated, ``It seems to me that even the zealots on both sides would begin to see that there is much more to bind the two countries together than to separate them.'' The Reagan administration is helping to set the stage for better Indian-Pakistani relations by developing a balanced policy between the two countries.

Finally, although I am optimistic about the future course of US-Indian relations, I believe it would be a great mistake to be overeager in courting India. We cannot expect a knee-jerk response from Mr. Gandhi each time we offer the Indians something they want. In an interview with Newsweek, Prime Minister Gandhi compared his present duties as India's head of state to his former profession as an airline pilot. He said, ``Flying is really coordinating, monitoring, a lot of different things happening, while thinking of other things. In many ways it's similar, if you imagine India as a huge aircraft, but with a much longer response time.''

As US policymakers carve out our policy toward India in the coming months, they would do well to keep that analogy in mind.

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R) of Utah is vice-chairman for foreign policy of the Senate steering committee.

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