It’s been a transformative decade in the India-US relations, birthed and nurtured by the path-breaking nuclear deal that morphed the once estranged democracies into engaged democracies. The 10th anniversary of the transformational India-US nuclear deal, conceived on a warm summer day in July 2005, deserved a joint op-ed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Barack Obama, with a soaring vision statement of the brave new future of this crucial relationship. Or better still, the two principal protagonists in catalyzing the deal – then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and then US President George Bush – could have found time to pen their reflections, and a thousand visions and revisions that framed the grand bargain. They may still do that, but for now we may have to do with the joint op-ed by the ambassadors of India and the US, published in the Huffington Post.
The joint op-ed by the two envoys is an unusual initiative that in itself conjures up a growing convergence of interests between the world’s oldest and largest democracies. And as to be expected, the big picture they paint for the future trajectory of “the defining partnership of the 21st century” is soaked in quiet confidence, and bristling with limitless possibilities.
Moving past intense verbal dueling that one saw at the height of the bitterly partisan debate on the nuclear deal across both sides of the Atlantic, this crucial relationship, although still dogged by some differences, has found its métier and traction. And it is based on the sobering realization that when the world’s largest democracies work together, they can achieve a lot more than if they were feuding and sparring.
The joint op-ed by India’s envoy Arun Kumar and his US counterpart Richard R. Verma shuns the usual grandiloquence that goes with such commemorative occasions and instead rely on robust common sense that seems to have finally triumphed. “The fact is, we are stronger when we work together, and our close collaboration in the years ahead can have a big impact upon global peace and prosperity,” say the two envoys. “Given our shared democratic values, multicultural traditions, robust people-to-people ties and convergent economic and security interests, we are natural partners, and indeed on a course to be best partners.”
The transformational decade (2005-2015) shows that these descriptions are not just rhetorical flourishes, but are grounded in what has been achieved in the once conflicted relationship over these years. Facts speak for themselves: now, there are more than 30 bilateral dialogues spanning a wide arc, ranging from cyber and homeland security, counter-terrorism cooperation to women’s empowerment, climate change and global health security. Bilateral trade has surpassed $100 billion, and the two sides are looking to multiply it five-fold to half a trillion dollars in the not too distant future. In the strategic arena, New Delhi has incrementally shed its ambivalence, which was reflected in the separate joint statement on cooperation in the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean regions during President Obama’s visit to India a the guest of honour at the Republic Day celebrations this year. The two envoys have encapsulated this burgeoning strategic partnership against the backdrop of “a world filled with complex security and economic challenges.” “Our two countries, for example, have become indispensable partners in the Asia-Pacific and the Indian Ocean regions, whether our navies are conducting anti-piracy patrols off the Horn of Africa, responding to the latest humanitarian crises or participating in an ever-growing array of military exercises,” they said.
“The historic visits of Prime Minister Modi to the United States and President Obama to India helped our relationship soar, moving us past old disagreements and paving the way forward for even more ambitious new collaborations,” the envoys say matter-of-factly, without dramatizing the fact that this is the first time the leaders of the two countries visited each other’s capitals within nine months, a feat of sorts if one compares the earlier periods when the leaders’ visits were few and far between.
The envoys are, however, right in underlining that the success of the India-US partnership will not depend on how they align their geopolitical games, but how this relationship can benefit ordinary citizens of the two countries. “As U.S.-India ties continue to blossom, the true test of our defining partnership for the 21st century will be how it benefits not just our common citizens but also the global commons.”
It does not matter which colour of ideology you wear, but few will contest that the US, despite the narrative of its decline, remains the preeminent hub of technology, enterprise and innovation, and has a pivotal role in India’s ongoing transformation. The US’ offer to assist in the fruition of 100 smart cities mission, among a host of other initiatives, just shows the transformative potential of this relationship for India.
The two grown-up democracies can’t be expected to agree on every issue, and there are still many imponderables that can challenge this defining partnership, but the horizons for the multi-hued India-US relations remain relatively unclouded. The establishments in New Delhi and beltway Washington may cavil, but the robust strength of people-to-people relations will ensure that the intricate machinery of India-US partnership will keep humming with new ideas, energy and drive to transform the lives of people not just in the two countries, but around the world. This is the true legacy of the India-US nuclear deal, provided this transformative impulse continues to animate the rapidly evolving relationship and endures in the decades ahead.
- Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network (www.indiawrites.org) and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.
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