It was natural for two “natural allies “ to climb within a short span of ten months from the lowest ebb of relations during diplomat Devyani Khobragade issue last December to its peak of Obama-Modi bonhomie in September 2014.
Though there was nothing substantive in terms of takeaways, the warm atmospherics and camaraderie promised much deeper engagement in the years to come- both on bilateral front and in international arena, with Modi promising to eliminate bottlenecks in US investment in Indian nuclear energy sector. Both leaders took note of the delay and reaffirmed their commitment to “implement fully” the US-India Civil nuclear cooperation agreement that would facilitate installation of American origin nuclear reactors in India. An interagency contact group has been set up to iron out the differences.
US observers have described this as sweet and sour relations between a married couple. India and US are tied to each other by strategic partnership, with a new mantra for the relationship, “Chalein Sath Sath: Forward together we go”. The Devyani issue was symptomatic of trust deficit and promises unfulfilled. But Modi’s elevation on the national throne has created hopes and aspirations not only for India but for the entire world.
The US administration which till a few months ago was not ready to commit a visa for Mr Narendra Modi, the then CM of Gujarat, the possibilities of India reinventing itself in the economic domain forced a dramatic U-turn in US attitude towards India. The Modi phenomenon has swept America and the US President Barack Obama was no less affected.
Though the strategic partnership was crafted a decade ago, this went soon into hibernation after a few years with US side indulging in electronic snooping of Indian government and leaders, which led to an anti-US backlash in the country. However, the two countries seem to have overcome all these as passing clouds over the horizon.
Keenly watched by strategic observers world over, especially the Chinese strategic community, the Obama-Modi meet was the culmination of first round of Modi’s first stint with international diplomacy in which he seems to have come out with flying colours. Modi’s personality and image as a business minded reformer perhaps helped him draw personalities from top business luminaries to top political leaders and leading lights of Indian American community. His first bilateral visit outside South Asia to Japan in early September was followed by the much touted visit of the Chinese President Xi Jinping in the third week of September and later all sights were set on Modi’s visit to New York and Washington where only a few months ago he would not have been able to visit due to withholding of visa by the US immigration authorities.
India-US relations seem to have returned to the hey days of 2008 when the two nations scripted the landmark Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, for which the then President George Bush risked his Presidential credibility, overruling the entire bureaucracy and even agonizing its allies, who resisted till end the push to India by President Bush in the select Nuclear Supplier Group.
The US side was expecting business worth over US$ 100 billion in the nuclear sector as the then Manmohan Singh government had fought hard to clear two nuclear parks consisting of six 1000 MW reactors for the Westinghouse and the General Electric in Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh. But the entry to these parks was not allowed with No Entry signs till the Nuclear Liability Law was adhered to.
The Modi government now seems to have assured the US administration that a way out would be found. The US Administration also wanted all the Indian defence deals to be awarded to US companies in exchange for US move to push India into international nuclear mainstream and opening the door for nuclear commerce with the rest of the world.
They were very angry when the IAF tender for 126 MMRCA was not awarded to the Lockheed Martin, though Indian government conceded many big defence deals to the US firms which included the C-17 Globemasters, C-130 Hercules, P-8I maritime surveillance aircraft etc. Over US$ 10 billion defence deals were contracted in last decade while deals worth over US$ 10 billion seems to be in pipeline. To deepen bilateral relations the two countries have also entered into a bilateral defence cooperation agreement of joint development and joint production.
Diplomatic circles were surprised that the two leaders issued a vision statement even before they formally met, and they also crafted a joint article for the Washington Post, symbolizing the growing confidence on each other. The Vision Statement is very meaningful, which if deciphered will reveal that the two nations have committed themselves to an alliance against destabilizing forces all over the world.
Though the vision statement does not name any country, it has very clearly enunciated, “Through intense consultations, joint exercises, and shared technology, our security cooperation will make the region and the world safe and secure. Together, we will combat terrorist threats and keep our homelands and citizens safe from attacks.”
The Vision Statement was very interestingly titled in Hindi, Chalein Sath Sath, Forward together we go, in which the two nations committed themselves to, “expand and deepen our strategic partnership in order to harness the inherent potential of our two democracies and the burgeoning ties between our people, economies, and businesses. Together we seek a reliable and enduring friendship that bolsters security and stability, contributes to the global economy, and advances peace and prosperity for our citizens and throughout the world.”
Are these hollow words or mere rhetorical statements? Couched in meaningful sentences, these avocations seem to commit the two nations to cooperate in the maintenance of peace and stability in various parts of the world, which will also include the South and East China sea for which US has announced Rebalancing Asia policy, encompassing the redeployment of 60 percent of US naval assets in the Asia Pacific region.
The Chinese are concerned over the US policy and would like to dissuade any country from joining this US led construct in the Asia Pacific region. If India even indirectly gives an impression that India is an ally of the Rebalancing Policy, the strategic balance will heavily tilt against China. India would definitely cooperate with US in checking Chinese efforts to treat the maritime area as Chinese territory.
Significantly the joint statement took note of the US Rebalance to Asia policy along with India’s Act East policy. The Joint Statement also took note of the US promoted New Silk Road and Asia Pacific economic corridor. Significantly the Indian leadership had ignored the Chinese calls to join the Maritime Silk road proposal during the visit of the President Xi Jinping to India.