On Friday, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) routed the ruling Indian National Congress (INC) to gain an outright majority, the first time a single party has won a majority in 30 years and the greatest electoral defeat ever experienced by the INC. This is seen as a response to increasing corruption scandals in India as well as anemic economic growth and with this victory, opposition leader Narendra Modi will soon become the new Indian prime minister. This presents an opportunity for both the U.S. and India. The relationship between the U.S. and India can best be described as at times ambiguous and at others an afterthought. Now though, with the growing importance of Asia, our “Asian Pivot” and with a new government in India, Washington must take advantage of this situation and approach the world’s most populous democracy with arms open.

Historically, Indias relations with other countries have been all over the map. During the Cold War India was a founding member of the Non-Alignment Pact but developed a close relationship with the Soviet Union, a relationship that continues with Russia today. Yet India maintained relationships with the U.S., European states and others; it can be said India is a prime example of a country that eschews the idea of entering into entangling alliances. In recent years, India has sought greater connections with disparate nations owing to a changing regional environment. The rise of China has led India to seek a balancing coalition against it, while the deterioration of U.S. -Pakistan relations over the years has created an open window for greater engagement with the U.S.

The Bush administration made several advances towards India including reversing the U.S. opposition to India’s nuclear program, assisting in tsunami search and rescue efforts, and promoting easier trade. A variety of factors helped to further this relationship and many felt positive by President Obamas trip to India in late 2010 when he backed India’s bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. But little has been done since then to bolster the relationship. Despite the numerous shared concerns held by both nations, and the “Asian Pivot,” India has been practically ignored while certain events have served to set back the relationship. Furthermore, PM-elect Modi has been essentially blacklisted by the U.S. since the early 2000s due to charges of his involvement, or lack of in violent sectarian riots that killed more than 1,000.

Regardless of these problems, the U.S. must act now and embrace India. We can’t ignore its leadership which has been provided an overwhelming mandate by the people. India is the second-most populous country in the world, the most populous of any democracy; it is an emerging power with an economy that is currently eleventh in the world by nominal GDP. There is no reason why the U.S. shouldn’t make enhanced engagement with India a top priority. In a time when the Asia-Pacific region is growing in importance and what some may say has already overshadowed Europe in economic importance, it is vital that the U.S. engage countries such as India. To fail to do so will only serve to set this country back.

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