Marking a new energy and a milestone in the defining partnership of the 21st century, Barack Obama will become the first US president India will host as the chief guest on the Republic Day in 2015.
“This Republic Day, we hope to have a friend over…invited President Obama to be the 1st US President to grace the occasion as Chief Guest,” India’s social media-savvy prime minister Narendra Modi tweeted on the micro-blogging site November 21.
The choice of President Obama as the chief guest at the Republic Day festivities by India sends a clear signal by the new leadership in Delhi to deepen multi-faceted strategic partnership with Washington in the years to come.
Mr Obama has accepted the Indian prime minister’s invite. This will be Mr Obama’s second visit to India. He last came to India in 2010 and had extended an in-principle support for India’s bid for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council during his address to a joint session of Parliament.
President Obama’s acceptance of Mr Modi’s invitation to come to India is nothing short of a diplomatic coup by India’s new prime minister, who was not too long ago shunned by Washington for his alleged inaction during the 2002 Gujarat riots, and denied a visa. More importantly, it’s a strategic masterstroke as Mr Obama’s visit – this is the first time the leaders of India and the US would have visited each other’s country within months – and sends a powerful signal across to India’s friends and adversaries alike in the region and the world at large. China will be specially watching the Obama visit as there is nothing Beijing is more apprehensive about than the growing cosiness and strategic compact between the world’s leading democracies. Pakistan, the perpetual griper, will obviously like to launch a diplomatic offensive, as it’s already doing with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif urging Mr Obama to take up the Kashmir issue with Mr Modi during their January meeting. Islamabad will probably get the same frosty answer as George Bush said in Islamabad so memorably in 2006: “Pakistan and India are different countries with different needs and different histories.”
The formal announcement of Obama’s visit comes barely a couple of months after Mr Modi held his first summit meeting with Mr Obama in Washington on September 30, which culminated in a new blueprint for galvanising the India-US strategic partnership entitled “Chalein Saath Saath: Forward Together We Go.”
Officials familiar with the atmospherics during the talks at the White House said Mr Modi struck an immediate rapport with Mr Obama and their conversation was interspersed with notes of mutual admiration.
In a first of its kind initiative, the leaders of the world’s oldest and largest democracies jointly authored an op-ed article in the Wall Street Journal on the eve of their first meeting on a bright crisp morning in Washington DC on September 30. The warmth between the two leaders was palpable, with Mr Obama making an unusual gesture of personally escorting Mr Modi to the Martin Luther King Memorial and showing him around the monument erected in memory of the iconic civil rights leaders and a life-long admirer of Mahatma Gandhi.
President Obama’s admiration for Mr Modi, who has kindled new hopes about the India growth story with his economic reforms and governance agenda, was also visible at their meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Brisbane. You are a man of action, Obama lauded Modi.
The two leaders can’t be more unlike each other in terms of their educational and social background, but what they share is far deeper. Both of them are grand self-fashioners, in the classic sense of the term. Mr Obama, an unknown senator till he became the first black president of the US in 2008, epitomises the audacity of hope inherent in the American Dream. Mr Modi, who once sold tea at railway platforms, surprised the world and his detractors by ending the 25-year old spree of coalition governments in India by winning the May 2014 elections and becoming the leader of the world’s largest democracy.
Above all, the Obama visit should also decisively put an end to all the talk of plateauing and drift in the India-US relations that was the dominant narrative during the last few years of the Manmohan Singh government. It will be now up to the two leaders to raise the bar, build on the September 30 declaration and pitch the India-US ties into a higher trajectory, and make it immune from the change in governments and vagaries of politics.
- 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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