India Calling

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Dr Veena Ravikumar says that India awaits President Obama’s Republic Day visit with friendship and realistic expectations of elevating the Indo-US relationship

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has invited US President Barack Obama to India’s Republic Day celebrations on January 26, 2015. The invitation has been accepted. This signifies graciousness on both sides. Never before has the US president been invited, so this truly signifies an important landmark for both nations. Moreover, Prime Minister Modi, who was persona non grata since the 2002 Godhra riots, was denied a United States visa. It is commendable that Modi has moved past this, looking to India’s national interests.

This is a significant turn in India’s foreign policy thinking. It projects a change and also highlights the present government’s objectives. It also symbolises the de-hyphenation of India-Pakistan in US strategic thinking. The points of discussion between Obama and Modi would mainly pertain to economic investments, transfer of dual use technology, items of defence procurement and foreign policy pertinent to South and South East Asia.

China’s economic growth and its joint ventures in Africa and South East Asia have enabled it to emerge as the proverbial ‘dragon breathing fire’. Since China is a major challenge, it is in the US interest to get India aboard to partner it to balance China. China, in fact, has come up as a major factor in restoring India-US relations.

Both Modi and Obama are seen as dynamic men with a knack for quick decision making in difficult situations. Obama’s huge popularity amongst the American populace is at par with Modi’s status in India. Their inclusive style is characterised by warmth and charisma. Clearly, there are huge expectations from Obama’s visit.

Even though US-India relations have always had a shaky trajectory, the upside in bilateral ties was never lost. Whether the supply of guns and aircraft by the US to India during the 1962 Sino-Indian war or the MoU between the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and former US President Ronald Reagan for transfer of technology in 1984, every decision reflected diverse opinions and people-oriented policies.

Estranged Democracies, the book by Dennis Kuz, was followed by Engaged Democracies, symbolising the change in the relationship between the oldest and the largest democracy in the world. This sweeping change was evident in the 2005 Indo-US nuclear deal, which paved the way for nuclear cooperation between both the countries. The deal was seen as a watershed in US-India relations and introduced a new dimension in international non-proliferation efforts. The path-breaking deal lifted a three-decade US moratorium on nuclear trade with India, and enabled US assistance and expertise for India’s civilian nuclear energy programme. It has also furthered US-India cooperation in energy and satellite technology.

However, there are other factors that have influenced India-US relations. The break-up of the erstwhile Soviet Union, globalisation and economic liberalisation, and the 9/11 attacks brought about a tectonic shift in international relations and changed the equation between the US and India. Globalisation and ensuing liberalisation opened up India’s economic policies in the 1990s and shaped the contours of several ventures and projects in trade, investment, and information technology. The demise of the Soviet Union pushed not only India, but other nations towards the US, which emerged as the sole, undisputed superpower.

The shocking attack on the World Trade Centre invoked a sense of sympathy for the US the world over. It also brought South Asia, comprising Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, into focus. The ensuing complicated war on terror, the sharp rise in terrorist organisations like the al Qaeda, both divided and united parts of the world. The complexities have become even harder to fathom, and now needs the complicity of various nations to combat the scourge of terrorism. The fact that non-state actors play a major role is extremely disconcerting for big states like the US and India. India-US cooperation in combating terrorism has been induced by factors that created it.

Though relations took a major hit with the arrest of Devyani Khobragade in December 2013, the confirmation of Richard Rahul Verma, an American of Indian origin, as the next US ambassador to India by the US Senate is a clear indication of the bipartisan support for improving Indo-US ties. Verma’s nomination process has been speeded up to ensure that things are in place by the time Obama arrives in India.

India awaits Obama’s Republic Day visit with friendship and realistic expectations of elevating the Indo-US relationship. Yet, India needs to assert her own independence in strategic thinking and action, and the US needs to understand India’s role in this part of the world. Obama’s visit will do that assuredly. The collaboration between the two democracies is imperative to reset equations in international relations.

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Diplomatist Magazine was launched in October of 1996 as the signature magazine of L.B. Associates (Pvt) Ltd, a contract publishing house based in Noida, a satellite town of New Delhi, India, the National Capital.