Barack Obama’s visit to India, starting Saturday, may offer him some small respite from the drubbing that has made this week the nadir of his political life; but if he’s looking (a la Elizabeth Gilbert/Julia Roberts) for some Eastern salve for his battered soul, he isn’t going to find it in Mumbai or New Delhi. Obama will encounter a hospitable people, of course: Indians are never unkind to their guests. Why, they’re even stripping coconuts from trees that line a path he’s scheduled to walk down, lest a hard nut ping him on his un-turbanned head. But he will find little of the spontaneous warmth and genuine bonhomie that was lavished on George W. Bush when the latter visited India in 2006.
Two years after Bush’s departure from the White House, India is still Bush Country—a giant (if foreign) Red State, to use the American political taxonomy. By that I mean that the political establishment and much of the non-leftist intelligentsia still looks back with dewy-eyed fondness to the time when India’s relations with the United States flowered extravagantly under Bush. It wasn’t just a matter of securing a mold-breaking nuclear deal with Washington; it was a case of India dealing, for the first time in the uneven history of its relations with the United States, with an American president who saw India as a partner-in-civilization.