MODI’S US VISIT: RELATIONS DEEPEN BUT ISSUES REMAIN

Prime Minister Narendra after return to New Delhi on October 1 from a hectic, often frenetic five-day visit to the US, described it as “very successful and satisfactory”. The Ushas described the visit as “extraordinarily successful”. White House senior director for India Phil Reiner said the visit provided a boost to “reenergize relationship”. Assistant Secretary of State Nisha Biswal said she believed the talks’ success had, in fact, “relaunched” the relationship. The two officials underscored the personal equation the two leaders struck – the President does not always give visiting leaders a tour of DC monuments.

Some analysts however, called it simply a get-to-know visit given that he visited the US after a ten year ban, other believe he has succeeded to establishing a personal rapport with the US President ad largely repairing bilateral ties. The private dinner Obama held in his honour, his gesture of accompanying Modi to the Martin Luther King Memorial, his promise to cooperate to join India’s efforts to dismantle terror groups based in Pakistan including LeT, JeM and D-Company came as poignant signal that the US genuinely wants to move ahead with India’s newly-elected leader.

Signals from the joint briefing of the talks between the two leaders, the joint statement issued at the end of the summit talks and the Op-ed article jointly penned by Modi and Obama for a leading American daily were all too evident; that India and the US are determined to repair the damage the relations had recently suffered and that progress will be based on deliverables on the ground. The Joint article said: “Today our partnership is robust, reliable and enduring, and it is expanding. Our relationship involves more bilateral collaboration than ever before.” This is quite positive given that nothing of significance had happened in the India-US bilateral over the last five years. The 3500-word Joint statement speaks volumes for the breath of discussions between them in a short period. It covers a wide range of issues including “broad strategic and global partnership” between the two countries, their shared values and their desire to strengthen and deepen cooperation.

The good part about the meeting between the two leaders was that there was no attempt to gloss over contentious issues. While Obama raised India’s opposition to the Trade Facilitation Agreement at the recently-held World Trade Organisation meeting, the Indian Prime Minister pointed to the limits in access that Washington DC had put on the Indian service sector workforce – especially from the information technology sector – through its restrictive Asia regime.

The 64-year old Indian leader made a strong impression in his talks with top American business leaders with his energy and declared commitment to transform India in which he sought US cooperation and investment, including in railways and defence manufacturing. At a breakfast meeting with top American CEOs and followed by individual sessions with head honchos of top American business giants such as General Electric, Boeing and Goldman Sachs, in New York, he invited them to invest in India in a big way and promised to ease rules and do away with redtapism. Again while in Washington, urging US corporate to establish and expand their base in India before it is too late, Modi told the US-India Business Council before emplaning for Delhi that he would implement in the next six months all the things necessary for ease of business in India.
The commitment he made in his Madison Square Garden speech to ease rules regarding visas for the non-resident Indians and even American visitors addressed a long standing demand for the NRIs.

Most analysts agree that the atmospherics of Modi’s trip were thus positive and a lot of ground was sought to be covered. While it is true that there have been no big announcements, the sum of the incremental steps announced at the end of the PM’s visits is substantial. The hope that the visit has ignited is tempered by awareness of earlier shortfalls on delivery.

Talks and joint statement: cooperation to combat terrorism

In their first summit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Barack Obama pledged to push the bilateral relationship to “new levels”, resolve issues blocking implementation of civil nuclear deal and cooperate in counter-terrorism. During their 90-minute-long discussions preceded by delegation level talks on Sept. 30, which covered a broad range of issues including economic cooperation, trade and investment, Modi raised the demand for easier access to Indian services in the US.
Aimed at boosting their “strategic partnership”, to a new level, the two leaders agreed on a slew of concrete steps towards collaborating on building a counter-terror platform. In a briefing on their talks, Foreign Ministry Joint Secretary Doraiswamy announced, the two countries have agreed to make “joint and concerted” efforts” in this direction – including dismantling of “safe havens” and terrorist and criminal networks. It was stated that India and the US would now work together to target the financial and tactical support for the Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, al-Queda, Haqqani network and underworld don, Dawood Ibrahim.

The statement is significant as Dawood is widely believed to be in Pakistan and the Haqqani network, which has been active along the Afghanistan border, has been working against both Indian and US interests.
Briefing newsmen on the talks, Vikram Doraiswami, Joint Secretary [Americas] said, the “joint and concerted efforts” on dismantling safe havens for terrorist groups and criminal networks as resolved by India and the US did not mean that the two countries were going to launch operations but will carry out any UN-mandate task. He also said, India is not going to join any coalition against terrorism [by Islamic State in Iraq].

Incidentally, shortly after India and the US announced that they would work together to disrupt financial support for al-Queda, LeT and JeM, the US Treasury Department designated three Pak-based militant leaders, including Fazlur Rehman Khalili, as global terrorists.

Modi and Obama also sought resolution of key issues including the civil nuclear deal. On this contentious issue that was a boulder to further progress on the landmark Indo-US nuclear deal, the two leaders agreed to set up a joint India-US inter-agency group to speed up the purchase and installation of US-built reactors in India.

Importantly, the US also announced it would work towards India becoming a member of two groups critical to nuclear-related issues, the Missile Technology Control Regime and the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

Among the other key takeaways from the meeting are: a renewed 10-year defence partnership, US collaboration for developing the cities of Allahabad, Ajmer and Visakhapatnam, and for a National Defence University. On defence, India and the US decided to extend the Defence Framework Agreement cooperation by another 10 years and took steps towards Modi’s plan for greater self-reliance by tasking the Defence Trade and Technology Initiative to identify unique and transformative technologies and products that the two countries could co-develop and co-produce.

On Modi’s dream of smart cities, it was decided that US firms would be lead partners in developing three of them: Ajmer, Visakhapatnam and Allahabad. The US also agreed to help the Prime Minister’s other key initiatives of skill development through a partnership to bring global standards and certification system.

The two countries also agreed to put together a platform for partnership both at the government level and private philanthropic groups to boost the Modi Government plans for Clean India.

Apart from reaffirming its support for India to become a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council, the US said it would work towards enhancing India’s representation on key decision making bodies of existing international financial institutions.
At the end of the meeting at a joint appearance before the press, President Obama said, “I am looking forward to building on the relationship and making more progress.: Modi said he had invited President Obama visit at a convenient time. “Look forward to receiving President Obama and his family in India at a convenient time”, Modi said. Modi also struck a cosmic note, noting that “after the US-India meeting at Mars [India and US had both reached Mars recently”, we are meeting here on earth”. This is a happy coincidence, he said.

Modi said, the two sides had a candid discussion on the Bali ministerial of the WTO and was confident that a solution could be reached to address India’s concerns on food security. Obama said, the two leaders had agreed that one of their primary goals was to improve education and job training so that young people in their countries could compete in the global marketplace. Obama said, he was impressed with Modi’s interest in not only addressing poverty in India and revitalizing the economy there but his determination that India help bring about peace and security in the world.

Joint Statement: roadmap for bilateral relations

A brief statement released after their meeting on October 1 spells out cooperation and commitments in the following areas:
On terrorism, they stressed the need for “joint and concerted” efforts against Pak-based terrorist groups and reiterated the call for Pakistan to bring the perpetrators of the November 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai to justice. They reaffirmed their concern over the threat posed by terrorist groups, including the Islamic State [IS], pledged to prevent the spread of counterfeit currency, limit the use of cyberspace by terrorists and identify modalities to exchange terrorist watch lists.
On economic growth, Obama and Modi committed themselves to facilitating another five-fold increase in trade. They pledged to establish an Indo-US Investment Initiative with special focus on capital market development and financing of infrastructure as well an Infrastructure Collaboration Platform to enhance participation of US companies in infrastructure projects in India.
Modi and Obama also committed to advancing the PM’s goals of improving access to clean water and sanitation. USAID, through the Urban India Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Alliance will serve a knowledge partner to help leverage private and civil society innovation and technology to support Modi’s clean India Campaign.

Modi and Obama reaffirmed their commitment to fully implement the US-India civil nuclear cooperation agreement and establish a contact group tasked with advancing the implementation of civil nuclear energy cooperation through US-built nuclear power plants in India. Obama affirmed that India meets the Missile Technology Control Regime requirements and is ready for membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group. The two leaders discussed current collaboration on agricultural innovation in three African countries and Afghanistan.

On global and regional issues, they expressed concern about China’s ambitions in the South China Sea, called on Iran to comply with its UN Security Council-imposed obligations and to cooperate with the International atomic Energy Agency. Obama reaffirmed US support for a permanent seat for India on a reformed UN Security Council.

Observers have been struck by the recurring emphasis on cooperation on maritime security read with the mention of South China Sea in the joint statement. “The leaders expressed concern about rising tensions over maritime territorial disputes, and affirmed the importance of safeguarding maritime security and ensuring freedom of navigation throughout the region, especially in the South China Sea”. China was not named, but every part of the statement pointed to Beijing and its spiking belligerence including efforts to enforce an Air Defence Identification Zone. Significantly, India and US also plan to police sea lanes through the region, as others near about, with experts said serious implications for relations with China.

Obama and Modi agreed to a “new and enhanced strategic partnership” on energy security, clean energy and climate change. They agreed to strengthen and expand the US-India partnership to Advance Clean Energy. They launched a US-India Partnership for Climate Resilience and a US-India Climate Fellowship Programme to build long-term capacity to address climate change-related issues in both countries.

The two leaders renewed by another 10 years the 2005 Framework for the US-India Defence Relationship. They agreed to expand military-to-military partnership, including expert exchanges, dialogues and joint training and exercises. They also committed to enhancing exchanges of civilian and military intelligence and consultation and intensifying cooperation in maritime security.

The US will, for the first time, be a partner country at the annual Technology Summit in India in November. The two sides committed to convening the 9th High Technology Cooperation Group. Modi and Obama also agreed to partner on the Digital India Initiative which seeks to enhance digital infrastructure, deplop e-governance and e-services, promote industry collaboration and digitally empower Indian citizens.

Obama welcomed India’s proposal to establish the Global Initiative of Academic Networks under which India would host upto 1000 American academics each year to teach at Indian universities. They greeted the establishment and planned first meeting of NASA-ISRO Mars Joint Working Group.

It was decided that India will introduce via on arrival for US citizens and will work towards joining the US Global Entry Programme that will facilitate the travel of Indians to the US. .

Modi meeting with US CEOs, asks them to invest in India

Modi had meetings with top US business leaders both in New York and Washington urging them to invest in India where, he said, they would now confront no bureaucratic hurdles or redtapeism. While in New York he had a breakfast meeting with 11 CEOs of top US companies, in Washington, he attended an event organized by the US Indian Business Council [USIBC] on the last day of his visit where he urged top US corporate to establish and expand their base in India before “it is too late”. Modi told the USIBC that he would implement in the next six months all things necessary for ease of business in India.

In New York, he hosted a breakfast for 11 CEOs, including Indian-origin PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt and Citigroup chief Michael Corbat. He later had one-on-one meetings with six US CEOs. Those present at the breakfast meeting also were MasterCard CEO, Ajay Banga, Cargill’s President and CEO, David MacLennan, Caterpiller’s Douglas Oberhelman, AES’s Andres Gluski, Merck’s Kenneth Frazier, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Carlyle Group,David Rubenstein, Hospira’s Michael Ball and Warburg Pincus’s Charles Kaye.

Listening to concerns raised by the business leaders , Modi assured them that his Government will address their issues and try to make the environment in India more business friendly. He told the business leaders, infrastructure development is a big opportunity as I creates jobs and enhances quality of life of Indian citizens. He said, he wants to convert the Supreme Court judgement on coal allocation into an opportunity to move forward and clean up the past. The Supreme Court last week quashed allocation of 214 out of 218 coal blocks allotted to various companies since 1993terming it as “fatally flawed” and allowed the Government to take over operation of 42 such blocks which are functioning.

Vision document, Co-ed

After nearly two hours of informal talks over dinner, the two sides issued an expansive vision statement, chirpily titled “Chalein saath saath” [Forward Together we Go] and in a surprise move, the two leaders essayed a joint op-ed in the WASHINGTON POST pledging a partnership that is “robust, reliable and enduring”.

Titled “A renewed US-India partnership for the 21st Century”, the editorial initiative is a first of its kind in US-India affairs. Written after a series of digital consultations, the piece apparently pins its hopes on the turnaround in relations on the newly-installed BJP-led NDA Government.

In their joint editorial, the two leaders said, they are in agreement that it is time to set a new agenda for US-India partnership – one that realizes concrete benefits for citizens of both countries.. “This will be an agenda that enables us to find mutually rewarding ways to expand our collaboration in trade, investment and technology that harmonise with India’s ambitious development agenda, sustaining the US as the global engine of growth”, they wrote. “The advent of a new Government of India is a natural opportunity to broaden and deepen our relationship. We can go beyond modest and conventional goals”, it said, after noting that the true potential was still to be realised from an otherwise “robust, reliable and enduring” partnership.

Significantly, the write-up affirms US support for Modi’s pet “Clean India” project as well. “The US stands ready to assist”, it said, noting that an immediate area of concrete support is the “Clean India” campaign, where we will leverage private and civil society innovation, expertise and technology to improve sanitation and hygiene throughout India.”

But, the two countries are looking beyond their own interest. The region and the world will “benefit from the greater stability and security that our friendship promises.” “We remain committed to the larger effort to integrate South Asia and connect with markets and people in Central and South East Asia, the leaders wrote.

Madison Square Garden address to American Indians

One of the most important assignment of Modi in New York, barring his address to the UN General Assembly was addressing a rapturous crowd of nearly 20 thousand Non-Resident Indians at the historic Madison square Garden in the heart of Manhattan. He joined a long but exclusive list of international singers and film stars among others who have spoken at this iconic stadium. Indian Americans from across the nation gave a “rock star” treatment to Prime Minister Modi. Shouting slogans, Indian Americans who started arriving at the venue since early in the morning, welcomed him. Many were seen dressed in Modi T-shirt with portraits of Modi on it. Many were holding banners and slogans like “America Loves Modi”.

Everything was choreographed to perfection. There was the rotating podium so that every section got to see him in the circular stadium. Before Modi arrived, hundreds of dancers in traditional Rajasthani and Gujarati dress enthralled the people.
Largest of its kind for the American Indian community, it was organized by the recently formed Indian American Community Foundation and supported by more than 400 Indian American organizers from across the country. Tickets for the event were sold out days before Modi’s address on Sept. 29 and those who were not lucky enough, saw Modi addressing from huge screens put up outside. Every major news channel, numbering about 200, both Indian and American, had its best anchors parked like touts waiting for every information opportunity.

In an unprecedented show of solidarity for India-US relations, about 40 top US law makers attended the public reception for Modi at the iconic Madison square Garden. This was for the first time that such a large number of US lawmakers attended an event organized by the Indian American community and the arrest occasion when so many Congressmen participated in a diaspora event. Topping the list of senators were Robert Menendez, Chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Other two were Senators Joe Donnelly and Cory Brooker as well as the Indian-American Governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley. An American Congressman in a TV interview summed it up when he observed: “I have never seen such a response to an Indian PM.
Modi held the packed indoor stadium spellbound by his hour-long speech, asserting that “Our attempt I to make development a peoples’ movement”. Modi captured the hearts of the diaspora. In his hour long speech Modi played to the gallery by thanking the organizers. He produced all kinds of waivers around visas and the crowd went home content with the goodies he offered. He said his big win in the Lok Sabha elections had come with a big responsibility for him which he would fulfill. He promised good governance saying after a gap of 30 years India has got a Government at the Centre with a clear majority.
Giving Persons of Indian Origin [IO]s a unique gift, he said the PIOs will be given permanent visa to visit India. He promised longer visas to US citizens visiting India for tourism purposes with an extra offer of visa on arrival.

Listing out Indian advantages, the Prime Minister said that its three strengths were: democracy, demographic dividend in which 65 per cent of its population was under 35 years and the demand for India because it was a huge market. “The 21st century will be that of India. By 2020, only India will be in a position to provide work force to the world”, he said, while citing examples of growing global demand for nurses and teachers. Clearly with an eye on the younger generation, Modi said, “We will not do anything which will let you down.” “My Government will be 100 per cent successful in fulfilling the aspirations of the people. He said, ever since he has taken over as PM, he did not have even 15 minutes of vacation.

Congress sees the visit as “disappointing”

Terming Prime Minister’s US visit “disappointing”, the Congress lashed out at the PM for reducing diplomacy to “event management” and trying to create an atmosphere through “cheer leaders.” He said, “diplomacy requires gravitas and seriousness, not event management. You do not go there to show through cheer leaders how popular you are”, the party spokesman, Anand Sharma said. He said the Madison square event was stage-managed at a huge price, with best artistes, dancers and musicians being sent from India to perform and each of the 18,000 people who attended the event paying for tickets at $5000 to $10,000 per seat. He said, there were expectations of some concrete decisions on signing the Indo-US nuclear agreement and also of resolving the issue of H1B visa. “Nothing was done. The PM’s visit was disappointing. Nothing which brought any new turn in the Indo-US relations happened.”

Talking about Modi’s address to the UN General Assembly, he claimed two-thirds of the Assembly hall was empty when he was speaking.

Speaking of Modi’s meeting with businessmen, Ajay Maken said of those who participated only one firm falls in the list of top 20 of the Fortune 500 companies and that all the 17 companies already have investment in India.

Assessment by experts

There are a variety of assessments on Modi’s US visit.

Experts see four major areas that could gain from Modi’s US visit: top on the list is defence. While the US offering a host of co-production deals, including the production of the Javelin anti-tank missile that is in consonance with Modi’s “make in India vision, these could be put on the fast track. Second, with India seeking US investment in its infrastructure plan, including proposed smart cities, the two leaders could set a deadline to conclude the pending Bilateral Investment Treaty and also address each other’s concerns about IPR and immigration issues. Another key area could be in energy, particularly clean energy where major collaborative efforts could be identified and pursued to enhance India’s energy security.

These and other measures could go a long way in fulfilling what Obama terms as “the extraordinary promise of the Indo-US strategic partnership.

Agreeing that the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the US has created a sure of expectations, Shyam Saran, former Foreign Secretary, however, says, a considerable distance that has come to exist in the perspectives of the two countries on critical regional and global issues. While India shares democratic values, political affinity has rarely transcended different approaches rooted in how the two countries perceive their national interests in any given context.

He recalls that India-US relations saw an ascendant phase in the first five or six years of the current millennium. India had become a nuclear weapons State and the US quickly acknowledged this reality. There was a growing sense in the US that even without being an ally of the US, India would, in its own interests, pursue policies designed to constrain Chinese attempts to establish its strategic dominance of Asia. The experience of 9/11 furthermore brought the two countries closer together in counter-terrorism cooperation. And, most importantly, the rapid growth of the Indian economy offered American business and industry attractive prospects for investment and trade. The shared perception of strong, long-term strategic convergence reached an apogee in 2005 when the two countries declared their intention to negotiate a civil nuclear cooperation agreement. This landmark deal was the consequence of perceived strategic convergence rather than its cause.
Over the past few years, Sharan notes, in particular since UPA II, “the key drivers of the India-US strategic partnership have lost momentum. The prospects of India closing the power gap with China have diminished. For China, the peer to equal and surpass is the US. The fact that China’s economy today is four times that of India and still expanding makes India a less credible countervailing power than it was seen as from the vantage point of 2005”.

It is still true that if there is one power which has the latent capacities to draw level with and even surpass China it is India and this still provides leverage to the country. However, if the asymmetry between the two countries continues to increase, then, Shyam Saran says, India will figure less and less in the calculations of major powers including the US.

Noting that the US-India relationship started drifting under Manmohan Singh’s leadership as both sides failed to sustain the momentum of the civilian nuclear deal, strategic affairs analyst, C. Raja Mohan says, what stands out at the end of Modi’s visit to the US is the demonstration of political will and diplomatic ingenuity to rekindle the romance with America that had gone cold in recent years. In less than a week, Modi has turned the gathering pessimism about India’s relations with the US into an optimistic storyline.

The analyst continues, “During his visit, Modi sought to convince the American corporate sector that India is back in business, signaled a readiness to engage on difficult issues like climate change and trade and seized the moment for deepening defence and security cooperation. Modi also ran an impressive campaign of public diplomacy to mobilize the Indian American community and the political classes in Washington in favour of rejuvenating the bilateral partnership. Nothing of this was foreseen either in Delhi or in Washington”.

In overcoming negative sentiments (visa denial etc), Modi recognized that expanding cooperation with the US is critical to effectively pursing India’s domestic development agenda as well as to raising its relative position in the world.

Dr. Shashi Tharoor, the Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs, the former Union Minister of State for External Affairs and Human Resource Development and the former UN Under-Secretary-General is not very complimentary on the outcome of Modi’s US visit: “Mr Modi is undoubtedly already a considerable presence on the world stage. We should take with a fistful of salt the over-the-top pronouncements of his being a “rock star of diplomacy”, but it is undeniable that with his style, commanding presence and overwhelming confidence, our Prime Minister has made an impact wherever he goes…This does not necessarily deliver results for India, but it does mean that the Indian leader’s presence is noticed, in a very different manner from his understated predecessor. Dr Manmohan Singh was greatly respected for his intellect and his unrivalled expertise and wisdom on global economic issues; no one would seek Mr Modi’s views on fiscal markets or quantitative easing”.
Nalin S Kohli, spokesperson for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Director of the party’s Public Policy Research Centre, rebuts Shashi Tharoor by stating that the visit was successful. He quotes Dr Tharoor: “Mr Modi administered a necessary corrective to the negative image many American opinion-makers had had of him”, Nalin states that “perhaps, is the biggest achievement of the entire visit! For over a decade, a sustained vilification campaign projected Mr Modi as a highly-divisive leader which earned him the distinction of becoming the first and only democratically elected Chief Minister of a state to be denied a visa by the US administration. Ironically, the then Government of India, rather than correct this anomaly, chose to derive quiet satisfaction at this unfortunate development….It is the correction of this diplomatic anomaly that needs to be celebrated, as it unequivocally affirms the past is well behind both nations and they can now plan the path ahead – a path with enormous potential for a vastly mutual beneficial economic and strategic partnership.

An equally important achievement is that beyond the pleasing optics and sound-bytes, Prime Minister Modi, within four months of hectic and engaged initiatives, is driving home the message that the India story is getting back on track. And global business leaders, who had all but written off the potential of investing is India, are now willing to relook the possibilities within India. 

Rudra Chaudhuri, author of Forged in Crisis: India and the United States since 1947, says “What commentators perhaps fail to appreciate is that Mr. Modi appears more interested in people than in politicians”. Comparing Nehru’s first visit to the US in 1949 as one of courtesy, he says “that an Indian Prime Minister such as Narendra Modi would one day address a crowd of at least 6,000 “global” citizens in the heart of New York was unthinkable, let alone plausible. That he would be compared to the likes of a rock star addressing thousands of Indian-Americans in Madison Square Gardens would be near heresy..”
The Indian PM is conscious of the fact that he will be seen as a symbol of India’s democratic will, India’s scientific audaciousness, India’s economic venturesomeness. But, Gopalkrishna Gandhi, senior fellow, Centre for Public Affairs and Critical Theory, Shiv Nadar University comments that the Prime Minister should understand that primarily he is in the US “to represent, not market India….. A PM of India is the leader of 1.2 billion people. He represents those who adore him and those who do not. He leads those who voted for him and those who voted against him”. He makes the point that “US public opinion, is not ignorant of the chemistry of the party he leads as its supremo. It is watching both the Mangalyaan cruise into its red orbit and the basest bigots create mayhem in the towns of Uttar Pradesh”.

Stating the “the US is a lot about chambers of commerce”, Gandhi says “it is also about a great deal more. It is about serious intellectual, aesthetic, professional and ideational engagements with India’s past, present and future”.

Therefore, concludes Gandhi: “As we wish his visit a resounding success that is rightly and exclusively his, we must also want it to have a greater fulfilment that is India’s”.

Veteran journalist and political thinker Kuldip Nayar has a different take on the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit which was, in more ways than one, a success. “He may not have brought with him anything tangible from America but has created a climate of confidence and won back Washington which always looked at India with suspicion.

“Modi was able to formulate a joint statement with President Barrack Obama that goes farther than what his predecessors were able to achieve. However, in the process, Modi has buried Jawaharlal Nehru’s idea of non-alignment deep. True, the movement has lost its raison d’être, the confrontation between the Communists and the democratic bloc. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, the Communists lost the cold war.

“Still the movement had come to represent an idea that small nations should not fear the big ones because of their size or power. In comparison, the number of states comprising the third world countries was far more than those either in the American bloc or the Soviet.

“Modi is a product of the capitalist world.  He has neither the pull of the Nehru era of socialism, nor that of Mahatama Gandhi’s self-sufficiency. Modi wants the country to develop, whatever be the means and however big a distance the economy may create between the haves and the have-nots.

Reactions in the media

Most editorials agree that Modi is poised to make a big difference in India US relations because of his enthusiasm. The Indian Express feels Modi brings a rare pragmatism in dealing with the many differences with the US on trade, climate change and civil nuclear liability. His eager “pursuit of American investment in India is matched by his recognition of the unprecedented possibilities for geopolitical cooperation with the US in the subcontinent, East Asia, the Middle East and the Indian Ocean. At the same time, Modi appears deeply conscious of India’s own strengths and its inherent capacity to build an equitable relationship with Washington. The self-assurance that Modi has begun to inject into Delhi’s worldview promises to herald a future for India-US relations that is very different from the past”.

The Hindu says the welcome he received has firmly closed the door on a most awkward situation in bilateral ties: that of India voting in a leader proscribed by the U.S. Secondly, U.S. business, clearly disaffected by the difficulties they face in doing business with India, have also signaled its desire to renew investments.

The fact that the two countries issued a vision document, the two leaders penned a joint op-ed, and then came out with a comprehensive 3,500-word Joint Statement, speaks volumes for the breadth of discussions between them in a short period. Yet, while the three documents contain all the parts of the relationship, they fail to convey the whole.

The Hindustan Times agrees. It says the three documents show that the relationship has plenty of substance once mutual concerns are met. In that context, the visit definitely helped sustain the ambition in India-US ties. “What’s needed now is a careful political shepherding of bureaucratic negotiations and a resolve to improve the domestic climate for investment”.
According to the Business Standard, the trip “can be called a success because of the manner in which it has helped the ties between the two countries blossom into a multi-faceted relationship of a kind that does not exist with any other country, ranging as it does from investments, infrastructure collaboration, urban development, technology, trade, space, health co-operation and skills development to climate change and energy. He has also succeeded in keeping interest in India’s potential at an elevated level, and the optimism that surrounds the existence of a government with a majority and, thus, the ability to take tough decisions has not dwindled”.

In terms of ensuring concrete results and forward movement however, the consensus is that trip could have achieved more. For instance, the security aspects of the joint statement were largely aspirational, although security co-operation is unquestionably the strongest leg of the relationship at the moment.

The Hindu agrees stating that “on issues where the countries agree, such as defence and energy, they show only incremental progress, without any big announcements. On issues where the countries differ, like the nuclear deal, trade and WTO, they seem to have deferred negotiations, indicating that no progress was made in resolving them.
“In that context, even the renewal of the strategic partnership, and reference to “joint and concerted efforts” to dismantle terror groups including al-Qaeda, Lashkar-e Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, the D-Company, and the Haqqanis” do not indicate any particularly new action or formulation.

“The statements seem most opaque when it comes to spelling out a shared worldview for India and the U.S.: while referring obliquely to China’s aggression in the South China Sea, ‘global crises’ like the situations in Iraq and Syria, and cooperation in Afghanistan, and a confounding, long reference to North Korea (DPRK), they list no action or step that the two countries hope to take together. And while both sides made it clear ahead of the talks that the U.S. would request, and India would discuss, the possibility of joining the anti-ISIS coalition, there is silence on where those discussions led”.

Another analysis paints a similar picture: “the United States affirmed that India is “ready for membership” of the Nuclear Suppliers Group; and there was a strong statement about freedom of navigation, including in the South China Sea. However, the nature of any maritime co-operation was not really spelt out. Counter-terrorism provided the most specific commitment. Intriguingly, of the five terror groups mentioned, while Al Qaeda was first, three India-focused ones occupied the next three slots, with the United States’ Afghan bugbear, the Haqqani Network, bringing up the rear. The happy serendipity of the United States Treasury Department finally making a long-planned move on the financing of Pakistan-based terror groups added to the sense that here, at least, there was some commonality of interests”.

Clearly, according to the media, Modi and Obama will need a clearer enunciation of their shared vision for the road ahead.

Limitations of India – US strategic relations

The limitation are strategic and arise primarily from the fact that through the past decade, Obama has slowly disengaged from conflicts, understanding that even almost unlimited power and wealth can sometimes achieve but little. Analyst Pravaeen Swami says “for India, this poses an enormous challenge. Even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeks to breathe life into the long-stalled strategic partnership with the US, there might not be one to be had. Ever since the end of the Cold War, India worked hard to win the support of the US — and largely succeeded. The bad news is that it’s not enough”.
And this at a time when the world is becoming increasingly conflict ridden. In the great arc from Mali to Pakistan, the jihadist movement is in the ascendant as never before. Efforts to construct stable polities and state structures have failed, from Somalia to Afghanistan.

Swami says that “while Indian and US interests converge, their stakes — and what they need to do to secure them — are quite different”. India needs to rework its strategy in an environment where the US is disengaging. Though Obama may be willing to despatch combat jets to bomb the Islamic State, the days of large-scale interventions are over.
The states of the region understand this. Saudi Arabia, fearful that the US’s fledgling rapprochement with Iran might one day leave it with a hostile, nuclear-armed neighbour, is contemplating what the commentator Faisal al-Yafai has called “a farewell wave to America”. Earlier this year, Pakistan army chief General Raheel Sharif was chief guest at a Saudi military exercise where the kingdom, for the first time, displayed its Chinese-made CSS-2 missiles — purchased, it has long been rumoured, for doomsday use with Pakistani warheads.

East of India, much the same forces are playing out. Even as the US implements deep cuts to military spending, China’s naval power is growing. Scholars Andrew Erickson and Adam Liff have noted that while the US still enjoys a preponderance of power, the People’s Liberation Army increasingly “has the resources, capabilities and confidence to attempt to assert China’s interests on its contested periphery.”

Fears are mounting across East Asia that the US’s promises of protection may prove illusory in the face of real military opposition — one reason for their energetic calls for military cooperation with nuclear-armed India.
Closer to home, anarchy threatens to overwhelm Afghanistan and, more important, nuclear-armed Pakistan. In the past the US has intervened to rein in Pakistan, the most recently after 26/11. Following the US’s withdrawal from Afghanistan later this year — and the almost inevitable diminution of aid to Pakistan — it is far from clear whether it will have the influence or equities to influence the behaviour of the failing state to India’s west.

Swami notes that “hoping to insulate itself, India has signed strategic partnership agreements with several opposing sides: not just the US, but Russia, China, Japan, Indonesia, Australia, Vietnam, South Korea, Iran and Afghanistan, among others. The precise objective of these partnerships is opaque, leading at least some to suggest that the agreements entail neither strategy nor partnership”. Eminent diplomat Kanwal Sibal, for example, has suggested they are merely declarations of commitment to “deepening ties and promoting convergence in external policies”.

And since India hasshied away from developing the military power to assert its interest or to participate in actual alliances towards that end, there is need for a deep re-thing of Indian strategic thinking. Moreover, India needs to understand the limitations of a strategic relationship with the US and prepare for a world without active US support.

C Raja Mohan focuses on another limiting factor. There has been much speculation on whether New Delhi might join President Barack Obama’s renewed war on terror in the Middle East, this time focused on the Islamic State (IS).
Modi did not give away much. In his address to the United Nations General Assembly and the talk at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, Modi condemned terrorism as a great challenge for humanity as a whole and insisted that it can be defeated only through collective action. In a vision statement issued after their dinner meeting at the White House on Monday, Modi and Obama declared “together, we will combat terrorist threats and keep our homelands and citizens safe from attacks”. Delightfully vague again; for clarity, sometimes, is the enemy of sensible diplomacy.

Contrary to the “pressure theory”, there was no expectation in official Washington that India will become a major element of the international coalition against the IS. Even limited support from India, diplomatic and rhetorical, would be welcome in Washington. Realists in both countries know that the success or failure of the campaign against the IS will depend on the political dynamic in the Middle East and on the shifting equations between Washington and different regional players in the region, especially Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey.

In his public remarks, Modi touched on India’s traditional concerns about international double standards on terrorism. He pointed to the fact that only when a country is directly affected by terrorism is it prepared to appreciate the kind of challenge that violent extremism poses. C Raja Mohan says the problem is not about double standards.

Raja Mohan says “Although both America and India see terrorism as a great threat to their societies, they have different priorities in the war against it. Since the 1990s, Washington’s main target has been al-Qaeda and now the IS. For Delhi, the Lashkar-e-Toiba and other anti-India terror groups based in Pakistan are of prime concern. Yet India and the US are beginning to discover that these terror groups do not operate in isolation from each other and have deep interconnections. The US is no longer immune from threats from South Asian groups like the LeT. Nor can India turn a blind eye to the rise of the IS and its impact on Delhi’s growing interests in the Middle East. Delhi is also concerned about how the IS might influence extremist groups in India.

“There is huge scope, then, for a significant expansion of India-US bilateral cooperation on terrorism, despite their different priorities. Since the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai, there has been a steady growth in the engagement between the intelligence and security establishments of the two countries. All indications are that Modi and Obama will elevate this to a more productive level”.