With hugs and smiles, Obama begins India journey

obama-arrivesRadiant smiles, a stately wave of hands, warm hugs….US President Barack Obama touched down in India to begin a three-day historic trip that’s set to map out new frontiers for the dynamic and evolving  India-US relations.

The second visit by Mr Obama to India, and the first by an American president as the chief guest at the country’s Republic Day celebrations, is deeply symbolic of a new high point in the transforming relations between the world’s two largest democracies.

With First Lady Michelle on his side, Obama walked down the air-stair of Air Force One on a wintry Sunday morning in Delhi to a red carpet welcome.

Breaking protocol, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with saffron shawl wrapped around his shoulders, personally received him, with the two leaders warmly hugging each other – an embrace whose meaning is going to unfold in the next three days President Obama will be in India. The surprise decision by Mr Modi to receive his American guest at the airport has kindled optimism that the two leaders have managed to resolve some knotty issues and are on the verge of announcing significant outcomes after their wide-ranging talks in the afternoon.

Outcomes and Breakthroughs

The talks are expected to see a breakthrough in some contentious issues relating to India’s civil nuclear liability regime stalling the implementation of the landmark India-US nuclear deal that turned the hitherto estranged democracies into engaged democracies ten years ago.  The defence cooperation is set to see a qualitative upgrade with the two countries set to renew their defence framework agreement for another 10 years, and focus on co-development and co-production of high-tech weaponry.

In the economic sphere, the two sides have already raised the bar by setting an ambitious target of upscaling bilateral trade to $500 billion by 2020 and will be looking to unveil new initiatives to fructify the full potential of the economic relationship.

The New Normal

On the geopolitical plane, the two countries will be looking to impart a new resonance to the strategic partnership by exploring areas of convergence and cooperation across a host of regional and global issues, including Afghanistan, the AfPak region, the rise of China and the evolving Indo-Pacific architecture. Sure, there will be substantive outcomes, including a likely agreement on climate change cooperation, but they will be not the kind of which screaming headlines are made of. The fact that President Obama has come to India within four months of his summit meeting with Mr Modi in Washington underlines what is becoming “the new normal” in the multi-faceted India-US relationship, where the leaders of the two countries can meet without hyping up expectations, and quietly script a new chapter in what President Obama has called the defining partnership of the 21st century.