India and formed that connection in a very important
and lasting fashion for me.
To follow a country — I want to hasten to add here I am
a follower; it is India that is doing things, I am the follower. You need to kind of go through the ups and
downs; you can’t be a fair-weather friend.
I think with India you need to have an openness about
it. Because the place, the society, the culture, the way it
operates, they are all so complex and varied and deep
that you have to be constantly open.
People sometimes ask me — people who don’t know
India — they say, ‘Well, you must know so much about
India.’ I say: “Look, I feel I don’t know much more than I
did when I first landed 49 years ago.”
Often when you think you know India, is it a mirage?
You know India in a way that I don’t know India.
Is there always a moment in your relationship with
India when you realize you do not know India still?
All the time.
What you develop over time is more…
Expect the unexpected?
That too. But you also develop a set of instincts about
— and I use the word advisedly — I think they are more
instincts than intellectual frameworks.
Maybe it is a little of both for how you interpret things.
I have certain convictions about the place. And those
are abiding. Those are developed over five decades
involvement with India. Those are kind of bed rock convictions I have about the place that are huge oversimplifications of the reality of India, but for me they are pan
holds on how I think about it.
I would say I never feel like — how can you? — I know
India. That’s a ridiculous statement.
In my 10 years here (at the Chicago Council of Global
Affairs, where he has been president) I have had even less
time to be there and follow it.
I have got a whole library of books in our home in
Massachusetts, which is going to be our principal residence when we leave here. Those are just the books I
haven’t read in the last 12 years (on India) that I have
been studiously collecting so that I can start reading
What has been your greatest contribution to a vibrant
Let me change the question, (what has been) my participation in the relationship, rather than my contribution to
Number one, I am part of a generation of Americans whose
life experience included early in our lives this involvement
There has been nothing like it starting with the Peace
Corps. Of course, Mrs Gandhi got rid of the Peace Corps
There were lots of us who went on to make the study of
India a professional pursuit. So, that created a cohort of
Americans, of my age and younger, who became involved
with India early on in their lives and throughout their lives
followed it and participated in it in some way and sought to
contribute to it in a variety of ways.
it to (Clinton) sometime in 1999 and laid out a series of
steps that would possibly reopen the door to a
We argued in favor of a Presidential visit. We thought
it would be a good thing for the relationship. After all,
there hadn’t been a Presidential visit since Nixon and
The President went in March 2000.
Bill Clinton deserves a lot of credit — not only for the
persistence of his intent and, being the very politically
creative guy he is, for finding a way to go.
But then the visit itself!
I didn’t go, but I was in India shortly before the visit,
and shortly after the visit, and I cannot remember in my
lifetime — not that I have been close to a lot of
Presidential visits — a single visit by a President to
another country that has had as electric an effect on the
attitudes in that country, about the United States, and on
the relationship, that Bill Clinton’s visit did.
I remember (members of) the Lok Sabha climbing over
tables to get to him! Mind you this is 2000 when Bill was
through the Monica (Lewinsky) thing.
He changed the way Indians looked at America…
And George W Bush?
George Bush, in a very different way, also deserves a lot
I am no big fan of George Bush and George Bush’s
Administration for a lot of reasons, but I give him huge
credit on India.
Underlying or behind or impelling or motivating the
civil nuclear agreement was this more fundamental
proposition (by the Bush Administration).
The proposition was that India is an emerging power
and that it is high time that the United States began to
deal with India as responsible emerging power — not as
a client or as an unruly child — and began to take steps to
set that relationship on a new and better ground and
(that), among other things, meant putting the whole
nuclear thing behind us.
My three years in the embassy in Delhi were consumed
with the United States government’s concerns over
nuclear issues, particularly over the fueling of Tarapur (the
nuclear plant outside Mumbai).
We built that reactor in Tarapur. It was US fuel. The fuel
was running out. The reprocessing rods were all stuck in the
ponds. They couldn’t get rid of them because they couldn’t
send the fuel back to the US.
It was a mess.
The United States was attempting to use this as a lever to
get India to submit to full scope inspections/safeguards. Of
course, India was not willing to do that.
So, Bush broke through all of that and, of course, the non-proliferation community hated it, and opposed it.
He didn’t flinch and I think he was right.
Does that mean that all of a sudden (between) India and
the United States — remember the old expression during the
1950s Hindi-Chini bhai bhai — that there was going to be
Hindi-Yunkee (Yankee, Bouton cutely uses an Indian pronunciation) bhai bhai?
That was a naïve, at best, expectation.
President Barack Obama, right, with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
in New Delhi in November 2010.
Marshall Bouton believes ‘You can’t have a big idea every four years.’
The principal task of the Obama term, he says, was to consolidate the
India-US relationship that had been so transformed between 1998 and 2008.
JASON REED/REU TERS
In the 10 years since Bill Clinton went to India, the United
States-India relationship was transformed more fully, than
any other relationship other than the US-China relationship
between 1971-1972 and 1981-1982.
And that’s saying something.
So I think they both get credit.
What does it take to be a specialist on India? What special
skills does it require?
I do not know that it requires special skills.
It requires a sense of connection.
This is true for anybody who specializes — whether in
scholarship or in other walks of life — in a particular country, or particular region.
At some point in your life, your career, you form a connection to the place and it is usually a multi-stranded connection, part intellectual, part personal, part emotional. It is
part a values issue.
I was socialized early in my first two or three experiences in
SPONSORED B Y