ANOTHER VISITOR-The rise of Asia and the decline of America Diplomacy - K.P. Nayar Relations between India and the United States of America have taken root and acquired a new dimension with the visit of the Obamas to Mumbai and New Delhi. More than the president, the remarkable First Lady, Michelle Obama, will be looked upon by todayâ€™s teenagers as the American who demystified Indo-US relations, brought it down from the high pedestal of civil nuclear cooperation and high-technology trade to ideas and images that ordinary people can relate to. Forty-eight years before Michelle Obama, another American First Lady, Jackie Kennedy, visited India. â€œHer every seam has been the subject of hypnotized attention from the streets of Delhi to Khyber Pass,â€ wrote Life magazine of her travels through India. In a single day in New Delhi, she appeared in five different dresses, according to accounts of that visit. Jackie Kennedy, impressive though she was, confined her activities during that memorable trip to spending time with the likes of Maharani Gayatri Devi and watching polo matches. Michelle Obama, on the other hand, chose her locales and her interlocutors with greater sensitivity and discretion, largely because of her values and her upbringing. She came, she saw, she endeared. Her husband was a postscript in an exercise that is bound to change the way Indians see America. But it worked. This columnist has been impressed by the way Indians continued to look at Russians, years after the Soviet Union disintegrated. Moscowâ€™s diplomats driving up to a petrol station in rural Punjab or Tamil Nadu would be greeted with special affection, and station attendants would chat affably with Russians who spoke to them in Hindi, Punjabi or Tamil, as the case maybe. For these attendants, such conversations were worth much more than a ten-rupee tip that an American or British diplomat, who similarly drove up to fill their cars, may have offered them. Indians loved the Soviets even after the latterâ€™s country fell apart. That love was concretized much earlier, during a visit by Nikita Khrushchev and Nikolai Bulganin to India in 1955. A crowd of more than two million, which the two leaders drew in Calcutta that December, was said to have set a record for any public meeting at that time. Khrushchev and Bulganin brought along with them famed Soviet performing troupes who struck a special chord with ordinary Indians much the same way television images of Michelle Obama dancing with handicapped children and hugging them made Indians view the Americans in a new and different light this week. Khrushchev verbalized his clarion call for Indo-Soviet friendship with words that every Indian could comprehend â€” that if India shouted for help across the Amu Darya, he said in one speech, the Russians would be there to help. On Monday, Obama, in his own way, repeated what the Soviet leader did 55 years ago, with little drama and less flourish. In a single sentence in his Parliament speech about supporting Indiaâ€™s quest for a permanent seat in the United Nations security council, Obama endeared himself to India. It is an offer that has the potential to catch the fancy of Indians who will henceforth look at the US in much the same way that they looked at the USSR in 1971 when the American Navyâ€™s Seventh Fleet was in the Bay of Bengal or during the years when the UN security council was stopped from acting on Kashmir because of Moscowâ€™s repeated veto. That is how the Americans always wanted to be seen in India. Barack and Michelle Obamaâ€™s message to their compatriots back in the US was, â€œYes we can.â€ The change brought about by the Obamas is already there to see. Since the day Obama left stateside for India, the US has been convulsed by new daily revelations about how Washington did not tell New Delhi all it knew about the terrorist, David Coleman Headley, now in jail in Chicago. But unlike the first occasion when Pro Publica, an independent public-interest investigative non-profit corporation, revealed gaps in US intelligence-sharing with India over Headley, North and South Blocks have not reacted in public. Clearly, the director of national intelligence, Obamaâ€™s spy czar, considers the new revelations serious enough to have clarified on Monday that a review conducted by him â€œfinds that the US government did not connect Headley to terrorism until July 2009, after the attacks on Mumbai. Had the US government sufficiently established he was engaged in plotting a terrorist attack in India, the information would have most assuredly been transferred promptly to the Indian government.â€ If the Americans can build on what the Obamas did during their three-day stay in India, Indo-US relations would develop into what they have never been in the last 63 years, even if the Obamas no longer occupy the White House after 2012. An inevitable consequence of this would be a gap in the people-to-people relations between India and the US, and how the government in India wants to deal with the government in the US. That is how it was with the Soviet Union although, in that instance, the people-to-people ties with Moscow were charioted by the undivided Communist Party of India and a big network of NGOs that dotted the country with the support of the Russians. In a sense, a similar gap already exists between what the government wants of China and how those outside it view relations with Beijing. In the saturation media coverage of the preparations for the Obamasâ€™ arrival, hardly anyone noticed another visitor in the capital who was almost treated as a head of state. Zhou Yongkang, a member of the politburo of the Chinese Communist Party, had extensive meetings in New Delhi, including a long interaction with the prime minister, Manmohan Singh (picture). The external affairs minister, S.M. Krishna, ensured that Zhou went to Bangalore and saw Indiaâ€™s Silicon Valley. Zhou is widely seen as eventually headed for the top leadership in Beijing, and the invitation to him reflected New Delhiâ€™s desire to get to know him and work out the best chemistry with him, well in advance of his elevation to the highest office. Two more such visits from Beijing are expected before the culmination of bilateral engagement with the visit of the Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao, soon. Similarly, the intensity and range of Indiaâ€™s recent engagement of Japan is now way ahead of relations with virtually every other country. The fact is that despite the hype and hoopla of the Obama visit, for those who ultimately make foreign policy in South Block, the priority is no longer the US. Like every other major diplomatic player on the global stage, India, too, is quietly responding to the rise of Asia and the decline of the US, which, many fear, may be terminal. The Obama administration subtly acknowledges this: it recently began an institutionalized dialogue with India on East Asia. This is a reflection of Washingtonâ€™s desire to piggyback on India in taking advantage of Asiaâ€™s prosperity and strategic importance. Even before Obama left Indian soil, the American spin machine had begun to dole out propaganda to defend against criticism from the US allies, Pakistan, South Korea and Italy (countries which have no hope of making it to a reformed UN security council), that Obamaâ€™s endorsement of India for a permanent council seat was aimed at restraining China. In reality, the very opposite is what is most likely to happen. In the early days of the National Democratic Alliance government, when the Chinese found out that India and the US had decided to bury the hatchet about the 1998 nuclear tests, Chinaâ€™s ambassador in New Delhi took the initiative and immediately called on George Fernandes even though the defence minister had branded China as Indiaâ€™s â€œEnemy No. 1â€. The ambassador invited Fernandes to visit Beijing and he mellowed after the visit. Chinese diplomacy is nothing short of ultimate pragmatism and, contrary to Washingtonâ€™s calculations, one outcome of Obamaâ€™s visit will certainly be a significant improvement in Sino-Indian relations. Beijing is sure to take the initiative for this, and New Delhi will not be found wanting in its response.