New Delhi: US President Barack Obama will start his India tour on Saturday on a visit that is being dubbed by the American press as a getaway trip. It comes after the Democrats received a drubbing in the mid-term elections, but that's just the beginning of his worries.
Obama will narrowly skip Diwali in India. But even so, the timing for an India visit is all wrong. He will be embarrassed by the David Headley leaks, virtually confirming what was suspected all along - that the Americans let Headley run along too far.
At home, his approval ratings are dropping and he will be in Delhi soon after losing control of the Congress. A defensive president will be anxious not to be seen as a failing president.
"Even on a small issue like Amritsar, the fact that he might be mistaken as Muslim if he puts on a headgear as a lot of Americans believe he is a Muslim with a name like Hussein, he is going to be very vulnerable when he comes to India," says former ambassador to the US, Lalit Mansingh.
His host Manmohan Singh has his own problems. With murmurs growing louder within his own party that he is heading a government in drift.
Together they must address a drift in bilateral ties. If that isn't enough, they have to overcome fresh speed-breakers that have sprouted under Obama's watch like the protectionist rhetoric, especially on outsourcing, increased military sales to Pakistan, a return of the Taliban to power in Kabul, as India watches from the sidelines and the US reluctance to resist Chinese attempts to meddle in Kashmir or do illicit nuclear trade with Pakistan.
"It is important to reinforce the positive signals, explain away the negative signals and send a new message that the next steps in a strategic partnership have been taken," says former External Affairs Ministry official KC Singh.
If there is one spark that can electrify this relationship - a big ticket idea that captures popular attention while engaging the policy-making elite - it is Obama signalling broad support for India as a UN SC permanent member.
"A tacit US consensus that we ought to support India already exists. But if it is endorsed by President Obama then it is worth it," says South Asia expert at University of Georgia, Anupam Srivastava.
The Bill Clinton visit was path breaking, the George Bush visit transformational and the Obama visit will probably be business-like with a focus on nuts and bolt issues like trade, investment and ultimate job creation in both countries.