What new, different and meaningful could be discussed or achieved if an Indian premier meets his American counterpart for the seventh time in two years? Pretty little! But if the Indian premier happens to be Narendra Modi? The fact that it was the seventh meeting itself sends out clear signal, to the world at large, writes Surendra Kumar
His itinerary seemingly inconsequential yet each event making strong statements - floral tribute to the unknown soldiers at Arlington War cemetery, meeting with relatives of Indian American astronaut Kalpana Chawla, return of 200 stolen Indian idols and with his enviable oratory skills, the ‘rock star’ PM, who mesmerised almost hysterical Indian Americans in MSG (2014) and San Diego (2015), proved he has metamorphosed into a suave, sober, seasoned CEO hard-selling India.
Modi once again made his presence felt on the American soil with the most convincing and persuasive arguments, all the while presenting an enchanting win-win scenario for the both USA and India. If it was an exhilarating ‘symphony in play’ whose soaring music was being heard not only in the US and India but globally, the credit must go to its two conductors –Narendra Modi and Barack Obama; it will reverberate much after Obama has demitted his office.
Isn’t it amazing that one leader who wasn’t allowed to step foot on the American soil for ten years and another in whose early phase of Presidency India wasn’t even on the radar have become the architects of historic turnaround in India-US relations throwing the “hesitancy of history” to the wind? How did that happen? Both Modi and Obama are two strong statesmen with ambitious vision, aware of needs and priorities of their countries, cognizant of prevailing geo-economic, geopolitical and geo-strategic realities, free from the ideological divide of the past, courageous to take bold decisions to usher unprecedented changes which would serve their national interests and the new world order.
Though in his address to the joint session of the US Congress and the Senate he did refer to AB Vajpayee’s description of India-US as “natural allies” for the first time, Modi was at pains to project India and the US as partners, ready to work shoulder to shoulder bilaterally, regionally and globally in spite of differences on some issues.
“A strong India-U.S. partnership can anchor peace, prosperity and stability from Asia to Africa and from Indian Ocean to the Pacific. It can also help ensure security of the sea lanes of commerce and freedom of navigation on seas.”
He admitted that the US was an “indispensable partner” for India’s progress. But it was a partnership of two nations complementing each other - “… a partnership between American capital and innovation, and Indian human resource and entrepreneurship can be very powerful”. He reminded the US Law makers that that a stronger and prosperous India is in America's strategic interest.
At India-US Business Council meet, Modi stressed, “India is much more than a market. It is a source of scientific and managerial talent ... ours will be a partnership where both the nations will benefit.” He was at his persuasive best when he underlined that at a time when world economy is weak and many countries are facing difficulties, India could be an engine of growth. With a pause he added, “… it will be nice if the new engines are democratic”. His obvious allusion to communist China wasn’t lost on his listeners. But Modi also complimented the US saying “as India embarks on an era of development, it needs to learn from America’s traditions of entrepreneurship and innovation.” The US-Inida Business Council (USIBC) sounded confident about an investment of US$ 45 Billion in India in the coming years with Amazon Chief Jeff Benzo announcing an additional investment of US $ 3 billion.
The most significant deliverable was undoubtedly the designation of India as America’s special Defence partner – it will open doors for licence free access to advanced defence technology including dual use technology. This partnership should result in joint research and production of a whole range of Defence equipment under the Make in India initiative and reduce India’s dependence on imports.
The all clearance signal for India to join Missile Technology Control Regime came in the nick of the time. It can facilitate India’s production and export of certain range of missiles and acquisition of drones for surveillance. Modi also managed to mount pressure on China to relent on its opposition to India’s entry into NSG, especially after Switzerland and Mexico announced their support for India following his visit.
On the issues of nuclear security, energy security and maritime security, clean energy, gas hydrates and climate change there seems convergence of Indian and American views. While both countries will try to get COP 21 Paris agreement ratified by December this year, there isn’t a firm commitment as it will require domestic political consensus. Modi’s plan to generate 100 GW solar energy, international solar alliance and mission innovation find a mention in the joint statement. He didn’t forget to raise the issue of climate justice.
In his address to the Congress, aware of murmurs about alleged growing religious intolerance in India, Modi underscored India’s diversity, pluralism and secular tradition. He also referred to old connections between India and America - Thoreau, Borlaugh, Viveknand, Martin Luher king, Gandhi, Dr Ambedkar and influence of the American constitution on the Indian constitution.
He praised the US Congress’s role in blocking the sale of F-16 aircraft to Pakistan. He highlighted Pakistan’s role in promoting terrorism without naming her; his blunt remarks that there was no good terror or bad terror were meant for both the US and Pakistan. References to India’s construction of the Afghan Parliament and dam and other infrastructure projects were to emphasise that India has a stake in the political stability of Afghanistan.
Modi is not shy of being seen and called America’s partner. No wonder two US Congressmen have introduced a bill in the Congress to designate ‘India as a Special Global Partner of America.’
Is a tighter embrace of the US in India’s national interests? Doesn’t it create concerns in Russia and China?
Modi the foresighted diplomat and strong nationalist will have to keep leeway in this embrace so as not to endanger India’s relations with other countries. – The writer is a former Indian diplomat