India recoils at reported NSA spying on its Hindu nationalist party

The revelation could cast a cloud over US-Indian trade and defense diplomacy. Last December the two countries had a bilateral spat over the arrest of an Indian diplomat in New York.

Adnan Abidi/Reuters
US Senator John McCain (2nd l.) leaves after his meeting with India's Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj in New Delhi July 2, 2014. A visit to India by McCain on Wednesday was overshadowed by a row over reports that the National Security Agency was authorized to spy on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party in 2010.

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Revelations of US authorization to spy on India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi's political party are straining already delicate diplomatic ties, just as the Obama administration seeks to ramp up Indian trade deals.

India summoned a senior US diplomat over a recently released National Security Agency spying report, and today a press conference by visiting US Senator John McCain (R.–Ariz.) outside India’s foreign ministry was cancelled.

The latest leaks from Edward Snowden on the NSA spying program were published in the Washington Post on Monday. The report said that in 2010 the NSA was authorized to intercept information concerning 193 foreign governments; only Australia, Britain, Canada, and New Zealand were excluded. 

Also on the leaked list was Mr. Modi’s Hindu nationalist party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), one of six political parties recommended for observation.

The BJP party was in opposition in 2010, but won power in a landslide in May. 

"We expect a response to be provided to us, and if these (reports) are true, an assurance that this will not happen in the future," a senior Indian official told Reuters.

Relations between the US and India were tested in December when US law enforcement arrested an Indian diplomat in New York over her nanny’s working conditions. In response, special privileges were revoked for US diplomats in India and the US ambassador to New Delhi resigned. There’s currently no ambassador in the country.

The Obama administration has sought to strengthen ties with the Indian government since Modi's election, particularly through bilateral trade and defense, reports Reuters.

'Self-reliance in defense'

When Modi took office earlier this year, he vowed to revitalize India's arms industry. Mr. McCain, whose home state is host to operations of defense contractors Boeing and Raytheon, told the Senate last week that Washington should try to help India's economic and military development.

"This is an area where US defense capabilities, technologies, and cooperation – especially between our defense industries – can benefit India enormously," McCain said.

According to The Christian Science Monitor, a number of high-ranking foreign visitors, including McCain, have scheduled trips to India to discuss trade and arms deals.

Indian defense officials have long sought – and failed – to promote self-sufficiency in weapons production. Modi, who promises “minimal government, maximum governance,” has vowed to privatize industries, cut bureaucratic loopholes, and attract more foreign investment. 
But Modi's drive for foreign investment in arms manufacturing faces severe hurdles: India's entrenched corruption and red tape; the reluctance of foreign companies to share their newest technology; and the strategic risk of aggravating neighbors Pakistan and China. Still, that doesn't stop India from aspiring to great power status.

“As India enters the 21st century, it has to ensure self-reliance in defense,” says Debi Mohanty, a strategic affairs expert at the New Delhi-based think tank Observer Research Foundation. “India cannot afford to entirely depend on foreign supplies. If it wants to be a global power it has to build its own military manufacturing capacity.”

Modi hasn’t publicly commented on the snooping allegations, however, the Indian government has registered complaints over other accounts of alleged spying in the past. According to Agence France-Presse, India has complained to the US on two other occasions – July and November 2013 – including in response to reports that its UN mission in New York City and its Washington embassy were monitored.
India’s foreign ministry said this week that if the most recent snooping reports were accurate, it was "extremely disconcerting." The ministry also noted it was "unacceptable" for Indian privacy laws to be undermined in this way.

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