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Europe cool to Bush, but poll shows Indians view president favorably

NEW DELHI—If President Bush finds the reception too frosty on his visit to Europe this week, he might look to India for his next overseas jaunt.

In a recent 21-nation poll, the land of Gandhi and the Taj Mahal was one of only two countries in which a clear majority felt Bush's re-election made the world a safer place. Germany, France and Britain, among others, thought otherwise—by a wide margin.

Bush has told Indian leaders several times that he wants to visit India this year, but no date has been set.

"There's a lot of people who would warm to a Bush visit," said Radha Kumar, a trustee of the Delhi Policy Group, a domestic and foreign policy research institute in the Indian capital.

Indians aren't blindly in love with Bush. Most opposed the Iraq war, and India hasn't sent any troops, not even for reconstruction.

"It's high time they withdrew from there," said Rajneet Bhatia, 28, whose family business helps Canadian and European universities recruit students from India. "Don't forget about the loss of life. Terrorism is one thing, but war means loss of life, too."

But Indians don't hold the disdain and animosity for Bush heard in much of the rest of the world.

In the poll, 62 percent of 1,005 Indians described Bush's re-election as positive for peace and security. Only 27 percent said it was negative.

In France, 75 percent viewed Bush's re-election as negative for peace and security, as did 77 percent in Germany. The poll was conducted for the British Broadcasting Corp. by a public opinion program at the University of Maryland and Globe Scan Inc., a Toronto-based polling firm. The poll had a margin of error of 2.5 to 4 percentage points, depending on the country.

The Philippines joined India in support of Bush. Sixty-three percent of the people polled there said Bush's re-election was positive for peace.

Chief among the reasons Indians cite for liking Bush is his stance against terrorism. Indians, who've long faced terrorist attacks from separatists in Kashmir and other regions, welcome Bush's pressure on India's longtime nemesis, Pakistan, to crack down on Islamic militants trying to cross to the Indian side of Kashmir.

"We are sufferers of terrorism," said Dr. Pankaj Dhawan, a dental surgeon and enthusiastic Bush backer. "What has France experienced? Nothing. What has Germany experienced? Nothing. Let them come to the ground level and experience it."

The booming outsourcing industry also appreciates Bush's pro-business, hands-off policy toward the shift of U.S. software, back office and call center jobs to India.

Ajay Lavakare, co-founder and head of a company that provides computerized mapping services, is a self-described liberal who abhors Bush's stance on abortion, gun control and the death penalty.

Yet from his perch in Noida, a corporate center outside Delhi, he worried last fall about Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's rhetoric against the offshoring of U.S. jobs.

"We all sort of heaved a bit of a sigh of relief when Bush won, at least from the individual business perspective," said Lavakare, who developed the business plan for his company while he was a Stanford University graduate student in 1991. "As a CEO, that was positive news.

"From a purely selfish Indian point of view, Bush's re-election was good for India," Lavakare said.

The Indian results in the BBC survey may have been skewed somewhat in favor of Bush because the poll was conducted in urban centers, where most of the beneficiaries of offshoring live. Polling in rural India remains difficult because of limited telephone service and resources.

But few doubt that the poll reflects improving Indo-U.S. relations, dating from former President Clinton's visit to India in 2000, the first by an American president in 22 years.

"Eighty percent of the reason why India is so different in approach than Europe is this is a new warm era after a long period of cold," said Kumar of the Delhi Policy Group.

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The BBC poll results are online at www.pipa.org/OnlineReports/BBCworldpoll/html/bbcpoll011905.html

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(Moritsugu is a special correspondent.)

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

GRAPHIC (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20050217 BUSH INDIA poll

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