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The worst of times for Obama and India ties (2013 In Retrospect)

By Arun Kumar, Washington, Dec 25 : Much like US-India relations, US President Barack Obama had a roller coaster ride in the year gone by, as he scored a couple of successes abroad, but fumbled with the ball in the rollout of his signature healthcare law.


Obama wouldn't admit that 2013 was the worst year of his presidency as he left for his annual Hawaii holiday with nothing ticked on his "to do list" from immigration reform to jobs to tax reform to gun control in the wake of the "massacre of innocents" in a Newtown school.

If troubles with the "Obamacare" website was a self-inflicted wound, so was the year-end diplomatic spat with India over the arrest of an Indian diplomat, threatening what Obama has famously called "one of the defining partnerships of the 21 century".

Starting his second term in January with a 55 percent support, the president's approval rating dropped sharply to 41 percent, the lowest level of his presidency, according to a new CNN/ORC International survey. The figure matched the approval rating of his much-reviled Republican predecessor George W. Bush at this point of his second term, reflecting the change in fortunes of America's first black president who had not long ago caught the imagination of his nation and the world.

Besides being hit by Obamacare blues with critics accusing him of telling "the lie of the year" - if you like your health plan, you can keep it and leaks by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden that Uncle Sam spied at home and abroad - inflicted another blow.

And if a victory over Republicans in a budget battle after a 16-day government shutdown and accords with Syria over destruction of its chemical weapons and with Iran on freezing its nuclear programme, lifted Obama's stock somewhat, another "selfie" invited ridicule.

Instead of being remembered for his inspiring speech at Nelson Mandela's funeral, Obama huddling with the British prime ministers for an apparent "selfie" photo with Denmark's good-looking woman prime minister made him an easy target of late night comedy shows.

With Obama bogged down in attempts to rescue his domestic agenda, relations with India stalled, what with a White House supported immigration reform bill - seen as clearly discriminatory to Indian IT firms - getting through the Senate and Iran sanctions hitting India hard.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's third summit with Obama in September focussing on terrorism emanating from Pakistan, rescuing the landmark India-US civil nuclear deal with the first commercial agreement and putting defence cooperation at the forefront, raised hopes of happy days again.

But that was not to be. Even as Indian Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh was returning to India after an "exceedingly useful and very productive" visit with an assurance that the India-US partnership would intensify regardless of who comes to power next year, another plot was unfolding in New York.

Ironically it was the India-born "Sherriff of Wall Street" Preet Bharara, who struck the very next day with the arrest of an Indian diplomat over charges of visa fraud and underpaying to spark probably the worst India-US diplomatic spat.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)

--IANS (Posted on 25-12-2013)

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