The front page of the New York Times is telling. The photograph shows President Obama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh toasting each other in Washington DC. The story is on page A22.
Singh’s visit to Washington DC, the first state dinner of the Obama presidency was large on symbols, short on anything truly substantive. As one commentator put it in Rediff.com – “where’s the beef?”

It was missing, as might be expected in a state dinner for a Prime Minister from a Hindu majority country. The actual menu avoided meat altogether, opting for a prawn curry.

There were 320 guests – including every Indian American of some note, from PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi to lesbian and gay activist Urvashi Vaid, from writer Jhumpa Lahiri to filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan.

“Be happy that Obama is giving a lavish dinner to not just 120, but to 400 of all the important, leading Indian lights of American life,” writes Tarun Vijay in Rediff.com.

Everyone wined and dined and listened to Oscar winners A. R. Rehman and Jennifer Hudson but what actually came of the razzle-dazzle?

Not much, because “the dominant issue for the Obama administration in South Asia is Aghanistan,” said Fareed Zakaria host of CNN’s Fareed Zakari GPS in the Hindustan Times.

“There were no big-ticket announcements, pertaining either to resolving the issues holding up the implementation of the India-US nuclear deal or a counterterrorism and intelligence sharing agreement,” editorialized The Times of India.

India is realizing that despite the pomp and ceremony and words like “indispensable” and “natural ally”, the love fest of the Bush days are over. Now India and US are settling down to a less starry-eyed marriage, polite in public, separate bedrooms in private. In the Bush days India dreamed the US would do a Henry Higgins to India’s Eliza Dolittle, picking her up from the dirty bazaar streets and making her into My Fair Lady, a geopolitical counterweight to China.

“If George W. Bush had a Nixon-goes-to-China moment, that was it,” says Bill Emmott, author of “Rivals, How the Power Struggle Between China, India and Japan Will Shape Our Next Decade.” “India had been a Soviet ally. It was estranged from the U.S. since its nuclear tests. But Bush decided to really open a new chapter.”

Now the page has turned on the chapter. India, writes The Times of India “must recognise that Washington is going to prioritise its relationship with Beijing, thanks largely to its economic might.”
Indian newspapers were instead more concerned with the one year anniversary of the Mumbai attacks.

That Prime Minister Singh chose to be in Washington DC at this time did not go down well with some like Tarun Vijay, Director, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation. Vijay writes that the US didn’t help India when China attacked in 1962, bullied India during the India-Pakistan war of 1971 and won’t allow Indian intelligence officers to question David Coleman Headley arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on charges of plotting terror attacks in India. Still Prime Minister Singh went to Washington instead of Mumbai.

“Till we have such rulers who choose a date like 26/11 to be in Washington, rather than being in Mumbai comforting the nation, we can’t stop greater powers meddling in our region and affairs,” complains Vijay in Rediff.com.

The indications are the Obama administration does not take India seriously, writes Rajeev Srinivasan in Rediff.com. Srinivasan says the US respects that defeat them like Vietnam or fight them to a standstill like the Chinese in Korea. “They despise a weak and moralising nation like India (some of them have not yet forgotten V K Krishna Menon’s marathon speech at the United Nations, nor all the hot air about non-alignment,” writes Srinivasan.

He says despite the nice words and platitudes the fact is the Obama administration appointed Robin Raphel to its South Asia team who was until August a registered and paid lobbyist for Pakistan.

And India is worried that while Obama wines and dines Singh, he is showering billions on Pakistan on top of the $11 billion Bush gave them. India is not pleased.

“I have been warning Pakistan,” Home Minister P. Chidambaram said in a speech early this month. “not to play games with us. The last game should be the Mumbai attacks. Stop it there…If terrorists from Pakistan try to carry out any attacks in India, they will not only be defeated but will be retaliated against.”

As Indian observers analyze and scrutinize the joint statement to see whether the US will push Pakistan harder on terrorism and fighting al Qaeda, the truth is clear.

India’s honeymoon as America’s counterweight to China are over. It’s back to the age of re-hyphenation with Pakistan again.

Next year President Obama promised to visit India. Indians will be back to counting how much time he spends in Pakistan on that visit.