NEW YORK- Fast-track diplomacy and smart development-centric diplomacy are the twin mantra of the new government in Delhi. Staring from hosting the leaders of South Asian neighbours to engaging key Asian partners, China and Japan, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is now headed for the US on a defining trip that is set to infuse “the defining partnership of the 21st century” with a new burst of energy and vitality. Spectacle, colour, high diplomacy, culture, commerce and creativity –- all these varied elements are going to be fused into Prime Minister Modi’s maiden voyage to America (Sept 26-30), which is poised to be a blockbuster diplomatic event.
There are several firsts to this prime ministerial trip: This will be not only the first visit of Narendra Modi as the prime minister of India, but it will also be his first meeting with US President Barack Obama. Mr Modi will also become the first foreign leader to be given the largest-ever community reception in the heart of New York City – around 20,000-odd Indian-Americans will be listening in to the Indian leader at the Madison Square Garden, the iconic venue better known for celebrity rock stars and singers performing on its grand stage. This will also be the first time when an Indian leader’s speech will be beamed live on giant screens at Time Square, the pulsating heart of Manhattan which is frequented by thousands of people every day. This is also the first time the US Senate has designated September 30 as the day of India-US Partnership, which has coincided with the day Prime Minister Modi will meet President Obama in Washington for full-spectrum talks.
In the run-up to the prime ministerial visits, senior figures of the US administration have visited India in the first 100 days of the Modi government, including US Secretary of State John Kerry, Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and Deputy Secretary of State William Burns. They held wide-ranging talks in New Delhi, which have firmed up an ambitious agenda for making the summit meeting between the leaders of the world’s oldest and most populous democracies substantive and successful.
Raising the Bar
Many issues will be competing for the leaders’ mind space, but one can safely say that their overarching focus will to be impart a renewed momentum to the India-US relationship, which was transformed after the path-breaking civil nuclear deal of 2008, converting the hitherto estranged democracies into engaged democracies. While the nuclear deal, also called the 123 agreement, remains a work in progress, proponents of stronger India-US relations say it’s time for 456, indicating a common desire to raise the bar for the relationship which is seen as central to ongoing effort to shape an inclusive and pluralistic 21st century world order.
With a business-friendly prime minister in charge of Asia’s third largest economy, the focus will be on business and widening the arc of co-prosperity to create new win-win opportunities for both sides. This will be reflected in Prime Minister Modi’s interaction with top American CEOs, separately in New York and Washington. In these meetings, the Indian leader, armed with the largest parliamentary majority in the last three decades, is expected to make a robust pitch for attracting American investments and seek the participation of US capital and expertise to actualise his vision of making India a manufacturing powerhouse and building 100 smart cities. Sending positive signals to the global investor community, the FDI cap in the insurance sector has already been raised to 49 per cent. The defence sector has also been opened up to foreign investment. In return, India is expecting the US establishment to show some flexibility to accommodate India’s interests and concerns vis-à-vis the IPR regime’s application to life-saving generic drugs and visa fee for Indian IT professionals.
In the economic arena, the sky is virtually the limit, with the new government walking the talk on economic reforms. The US is India’s largest trading partner. The two sides are now looking to multiply bilateral trade five-fold to $500 billion. The trade balance is in India’s favour. The US is already the fifth largest source of foreign direct investments into India, with cumulative FDI inflows from the US from April 2000 to March 2014 amounting to about $ 11.92 billion. Indian companies have invested over US $ 17 billion in the US in the last few years.
Upswing in defence ties
The defence ties are on an upswing. In September 2013, the two sides signed a Joint Declaration on Defence Cooperation, which envisages qualitatively upgrading the defence relationship by simplifying technology transfer policies and exploring possibilities of co-development and co-production of defence systems. The two sides are expected to renew their defence framework agreement during the forthcoming visit.
Against the backdrop of the unfolding transition in Afghanistan and the proliferation of terrorist threats in Iraq and the Middle East, counter-terror and security cooperation are expected to get a boost in the forthcoming talks. This will be reflected in the symbolic visit of Mr Modi to Ground Zero, the site of the World Trade Centre in New York which was targeted by barbaric terror strikes on September 11, 2001 and the newly-inaugurated 9/11 Museum and Memorial.
With over 30 bilateral dialogue mechanisms straddling diverse areas and a growing convergence of interests across the arc of the globe spanning from Africa to Afghanistan, this is the turning point for the multi-faceted India-US relations.
With an arc of instability widening around the world, one can expect some focussed discussions on a wide array of regional and global hotspots, including Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and the volatile situation in the Middle East. This burgeoning cooperation on region global issues makes the India-US partnership truly global and strategic. In an interview to Fareed Zakaria of CNN, Mr Modi has underlined the global compass of the India-US cooperation.
“Relations between India and America should not be seen within the limits of just Delhi and Washington. It’s a much larger sphere. The good thing is that the mood of both Delhi and Washington is in harmony with this understanding. Both sides have played a role in this.” Underlining that India and the US are bound together, by history and culture, the prime minister voiced confidence that “these ties will deepen further.”
Mapping the way ahead
There is, therefore, strong political will on both sides to make this critically important relationship work, and to acquire new energy and vibrancy in days to come. In countless ways, the narratives of the India Story and the American Dream are getting fused. Over 100,000 Indian students studying in various American universities and the 3-million strong Indian diaspora in the US exemplify the intertwining of the Indian and American dreams. Above all, where the India-US relations score is in the unparalleled scale of people-to-people contacts, with burgeoning linkages in the fields of education, research and innovation. And it is in these areas the action lies in the future.
Tradition, Talent, Tourism, Trade and Technology – these 5 Ts which Prime Minister Modi has spelt out as part of his long-term vision of revitalising Brand India and the India Story can get a boost from closer partnership with the US. The US, too, is looking at India as a burgeoning market, a hub of innovation and a rising Asian power. The situation is ripe for dreaming big, and making the defining partnership of the 21st century deliver new possibilities for 1.5 billion people of India and the United States of America.
(Manish Chand is Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network, www.indiawrites.org, a portal and e-journal focused on international affairs and the India Story).
– The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author
- 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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