Updated: September 25, 2015 12:08:23 am
While Narendra Modi becomes the first Indian prime minister to visit Silicon Valley in 30 years, his third summit with US President Barack Obama in less than a year demonstrates the high-intensity engagement that has set the tone for a bold reimagination of bilateral ties. Although the big ideas on Indo-US relations came up under UPA 1, the Congress itself displayed ambivalence towards the US, as a result of which the partnership couldn’t fully translate itself from paper to process. The BJP, too, had reservations about America in the past, brought home by its opposition to the civilian nuclear deal. Modi as PM, though, has swept aside many of New Delhi’s traditional fears about the US and pushed ahead. Obama, for his part, has also responded positively. The result of this re-energised effort has been a rare and productive moment in the history of Indo-US relations.
The US-India Strategic and Commercial Dialogue, concluded in Washington DC this week, witnessed the transformation of this new approach into specific outcomes. This is reflected in expanded bilateral diplomatic cooperation, with a new mechanism for dialogue set up between India’s foreign secretary and the US deputy secretary of state, as well as a new institutional partnership between the state department and the ministry of external affairs. The trilateral with Japan has, likewise, been elevated to the ministerial level. India and the US have also decided to deepen their counter-terror cooperation and asked Pakistan to bring the perpetrators of 26/11 to justice, while Delhi and Washington are to build on their 10-year Defence Framework Agreement to deepen collaboration in defence and defence production via Make in India, even as the Union cabinet has just approved a roughly $3 billion helicopter deal with Boeing. Among the other takeaways are India’s aspiration for greater participation in internet governance organisations like Icann and the joint emphasis on climate change, looking ahead to the signing of a new five-year MoU on energy security, clean energy and climate change.
Modi, however, has to work harder to convince US businessmen — whom he is meeting in large numbers in New York and California — that the NDA can deliver on reforms to make it easier for foreigners to do business in India. Among the diaspora too, the uncritical enthusiasm for Modi is now tempered by the extension of India’s internal divisions — as with the Patels — to the NRI community in the US. As far as the PM’s challenge on the global stage is concerned, he has to signal a full reorientation of India’s multilateralism away from its hitherto defensive approach to a confident pragmatism that is willing to walk the talk.
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