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With Obama's visit, India displays new power

U.S. President Barack Obama, left, and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, embrace following a joint … NEW DELHI – For much of the last decade, New Delhi sold itself as "India Rising." Barack Obama's trip here delivered a new message: India has risen.

During his three day visit that ended Tuesday, the U.S. president delivered nearly everything on India's wish list, affirming the country's growing importance.

He endorsed India's role in nearby Afghanistan, even though such a statement was sure to annoy India's regional rival Pakistan, a key U.S. ally in the Afghan war. He chided Pakistan for not cracking down heavily enough on anti-India militant groups operating there. He lifted export controls, allowing India to buy high-tech weaponry from the U.S., and he gave spirited support to Indian industry, maintaining it wasn't stealing American jobs, but helping create new ones.

Most importantly for India, he backed its bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, a mostly symbolic move that affirmed its place as a new global power.

"In Asia and around the world, India is not simply emerging; India has already emerged," Obama told the Indian parliament Monday night.

Indian commentators saw the statement as a milestone in the nation's global image; No longer was it seen as an economic basket case, a potential dictatorship or an unstable collection of warring ethnic groups.

"It's a very happy acknowledgment that India has turned the corner," said Shekhar Gupta, editor-in-chief of The Indian Express newspaper, adding the country still has a lot of work left to do.

It isn't just Obama acknowledging India's new clout.

In July, British Prime Minister David Cameron came here with the "core purpose" of wooing Indian business to help create jobs back home. By the end of the year, when the leaders of France, Russia and China are expected to come, India will have hosted the leaders of all the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.

That landmark underscores the shift in power toward India, rooted in its skyrocketing economy, estimated to grow by about 8.5 percent this year, its enormous potential market of nearly 1.2 billion people and its new clout as a powerful player in Asia. It is seen as a possible counterbalance to Chinese influence in the region, even though its economic and military power is dwarfed by China's.

At a time of financial distress in the West, India is finding itself a coveted stop for leaders racing to snare some of the trillion-plus dollars the country is expected to invest in infrastructure, defense and agriculture in the coming years. That doesn't include the billions in international contracts on offer from private Indian companies.

During the Obama trip, much of the commentary on Indian television boiled down to this: "America needs us."

This is a new position for India, a nuclear power that was nevertheless often shunted aside in global affairs for decades.

During the Cold War, when its anemic economy gave it far less clout, India angered Washington by refusing to align itself with the U.S. against the Soviet Union and by refusing to drop its nuclear ambitions.

In a sign of the tension, President Jimmy Carter, during a 1978 trip here, was so annoyed at Prime Minister Morarji Desai's resistance to U.S. conditions on the purchase of uranium that he ordered an aide to send Desai a "cold and very blunt" letter. The remark was picked up by his microphone.

President Bill Clinton's visit here in 2000 shattered the ice, and George W. Bush's successful efforts to end India's nuclear isolation has made him a hero here.

Obama charmed India as well, in part by boosting its self confidence and repeatedly treating it as an equal partner.

But some warned that India's coming out party is a bit premature as hundreds of millions of citizens remain mired in poverty and its governing bureaucracy remains bloated and corrupt.

"I think Obama was being nice," said Amitabh Mattoo, a foreign policy analyst. "I don't think India has emerged, I think India is a rising power with a huge amount of potential, but there are huge problems within India."

Mattoo branded India "a work in progress in terms of becoming a great power," and cautioned that as it pushes forward on the global stage, the nation will have to drop its historical reluctance to taking controversial international positions.

It is an issue Obama raised as well, telling parliament that "with increased power comes increased responsibility," and imploring India to stand up for democratic values across the world.

With the international expectations on the country rising, India will have to work especially hard to get its house in order and take its place on the global stage, Gupta said.

"This party is ours to spoil now," he said. "India can't afford to disappoint the world."

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