Hillary Clinton’s connection with India goes back a long way and the issues she has raised during her visits to the country over the past two decades have reflected her concerns about terrorism and economic development.
The 67-year-old Clinton, who announced her decision to run for the US presidency on Sunday, first visited India in 1995, when she was the US first lady, with her daughter Chelsea.
Hillary Clinton and daughter Chelsea pose for a typical tourist snapshot in front of Taj Mahal. (Santosh Gupta/HT File Photo)
But it was during her stint as Secretary of State in Barack Obama’s first presidency during 2009-12 that she unveiled her vision of a larger role for India on the world stage. “It’s time to lead,” she said while addressing a meeting in Chennai in July 2011.
“Much of the history of the 21st century will be written in Asia which, in turn, will be influenced by the partnership between the US and India and its relationship with neighbours,” she said at the time.
In her memoir “Hard Choices”, Clinton said a key aspect of US policy during her stint as Secretary of State was bringing India “more fully into the Asian-Pacific political scene”, especially as a counterweight to China.
“Having another large democracy with a full seat at the table in the region could help encourage more countries to move toward political and economic openness, rather than follow China’s example of autocratic state capitalism,” she wrote.
Clinton made her first visit to India as the Secretary of State in the summer of 2009, months after the deadly terror attacks in Mumbai. In a show of solidarity with the people of India, she chose to stay in the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, one of the sites attacked by ten Pakistani terrorists who killed 166 people.
“By staying there and paying my respects at the memorial, I wanted to send the message that Mumbai was undeterred and open for business,” she wrote in her memoir.
Subsequently, she pushed Pakistan to prosecute those responsible for the Mumbai carnage. During a visit to Islamabad in October 2011, Clinton famously remarked at a news conference with then foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar: “You can’t keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbors. You know, eventually those snakes are going to turn on whoever has them in the backyard.”
During the July 2011 visit to India, while speaking about India’s role on the world stage, Clinton said the hope of the US was that “India would transcend its intractable conflict with Pakistan and become a more active advocate for democracy and free market values across Asia”.
“Despite some day-to-day differences, the strategic fundamentask of our relationship with India – shared democratic values, economic imperatives, and diplomatic priorities – were pushing both countries’ interests into closer convergence,” she wrote in her memoir.
In many ways, Clinton’s approach towards to India was a continuation of the policies during the second presidential term of her husband Bill Clinton. Soon after his second inauguration in January 1997, Bill Clinton’s administration worked to improve economic and security ties with India.
It was during this period that the first steps were taken to de-hyphenate US relations with India and Pakistan and Washington began veering around to New Delhi’s contention that Pakistan was sponsoring anti-India terrorism.
Bill Clinton also had a key role in ending the Kargil conflict, when he bluntly told then Pakistan premier Nawaz Sharif in July 1999 that the fighting had the potential to trigger a nuclear exchange and forced him to withdraw troops that had occupied strategic heights along the Line of Control.
There was also the personal connect with India during Hillary Clinton’s visits to the country. She wrote in her memoir that she had “fond memories” of her trip in 1995, when she and Chelsea visited the Taj Mahal in Agra and toured an orphanage run by Mother Teresa in Kolkata.
She returned to Kolkata two years later at the head of an American delegation to the funeral of Mother Teresa.
In September 2014, Clinton and her husband visited India and had a 45-minute meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Bill Clinton said no one else before Modi had the “knowledge and votes” to build a national economy.