PRIME Minister Rajiv Gandhi will be visiting the United States in June. This first official visit by India's young leader will raise expectations of more constructive US relations with the world's largest democracy. But a word of caution is in order. There are subterranean stumbling blocks in the relations with India which are not easily removed and which in large measure account for the perennially prickly character of the US-Indian relationship. The problems between the two nations go deeper than the much-discussed issue of US military aid to Pakistan; they relate to India's fundamental regional security aspirations and policies. For historic and strategic reasons, India sees its own security as indivisible from that of the entire subcontinent. As the largest power in the region, India considers itself to be ultimately responsible for the subcontinent's security and strives to insulate the region from outside intrusion by any of the big powers -- the Soviet Union, China, or the US. Consistent with this fundamental policy tenet, New Delhi discourages linkages between the big powers and other South Asian countries and seeks to evolve a regional security arrangement of pliant neighbors that acknowledge India's leadership.
In sharp contrast, all of India's neighbors -- Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Pakistan -- see India as the principal, though not the only, threat to their own security. To offset India's overwhelming presence, they all systematically cultivate links with outside powers. These links are not just a means of tweaking the elephant's tail, but reflect a deep urge for national integrity and survival.
Indians, however, see such ties as big-power trespassing on their subcontinental ``turf,'' and the US is perceived as the principal offender. For many Indians, concern over the US role in the region is transmuted into suspicion of US conspiracies to undermine India. Soviet disinformation encourages such apprehensions.