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Modi’s visit to the US – beyond the hoopla

October 3, 2014

Chants of “Modi, Modi’ rent the air wherever Indian Prime Minister went. An ecstatic Indian Diaspora had gone berserk. Some had traveled hundreds of miles to have a glimpse of the man. The Madison Square Garden show was fit for a rock star. The four day visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the US had clearly been a success.

Narendra Modi’s address to the Indian Diaspora in the Central Park and later in Madison Square Garden overshadowed the business end of his visit. The Indian Prime Minister was clearly trying to sell the India story when he mentioned India’s Mars mission, Mangalyaan again and again. But did he have to sell India to the Obama administration at all? The American regime has an ear to the ground. They diligently do their home work. They knew the man and what he had in mind. The Modi visit to the US was a success any which way one looks at it. Modi did what George W Bush and Manmohan Singh had envisioned when they signed the Civilian Nuclear Deal. What most people do not understand is that the Indo-US Civilian Nuclear Deal is not just about building nuclear power plants in India to help in its energy needs it is an all-encompassing deal that gives both nations the leverage to cooperate in a myriad of issues from defense to intelligence sharing to education and agriculture. Manmohan Singh had the will and the foresight but did not have a personal mandate to take forward what he had envisioned. Narendra Modi on the other hand is a political leader with a mandate and the will to take forward what was started by his predecessor.

What went unreported was Modi’s meeting in New York with a powerful Jewish group, the American Jewish Committee. I have yet to see pictures of that crucial meeting. Narendra Modi, it is reported that Mr. Modi pointed out how Jewish community has never been targeted in India and India abhors antisemitism. The Indian Prime Minister then met the Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the two had extended exchanges including the one on the Iran question. Mr. Netanyahu invited Mr. Modi to visit Israel. Will the Indian Prime Minister choose to visit Israel anytime in the future is a moot point. If indeed he does, as he might, the political and strategic fallout’s will be remarkable. For one, India will be taken more seriously by the Middle Eastern countries and we might find real friends and partners in the region including Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

The Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas was also scheduled to meet Mr. Modi soon after the Indian Prime Minister’s meet with the Israeli PM but Mr. Abbas chose to leave early and the meeting could not happen. These developments are crucial to understand the import of the Indian Prime Minister’s visit to the US.

The Indian media tried to highlight the ‘differences’ between India and the US on certain issues, most notably on WTO and climate change. No two nations can agree on everything. The two leaders understood that. What the media did not highlight was the fact that Indo-US defense pact has been signed for another ten years. While the Indian PM was in America the US military was having joint exercises with their Indian counterparts in Uttarakhand. The Indian navy has signed a pact with the US, which veritably means that Indian navy will man Indian Ocean and beyond with their western counterparts. While Modi met American CEO’s which was much publicized, what went unreported was that the US had committed $41 billion investment in the next three years., which is much more than what Japan and China have committed together. India and the US will jointly develop anti-tank missile system called the Javelin. Modi was very keen that US defense industry make India their manufacturing hub as a part of his ‘Make in India’ initiative. It appears that some American companies have agreed to seriously look into what the possibilities are on that front.

That the two nations have agreed to share intelligence goes without saying, remember India is one of the few countries in the world with the state of the art AWACS system in its armory – the ultimate force multipliers. India and the West have been sharing intelligence for long but now the ties will be deeper as anti-terror front will be opened by the two nations and the West will actively help India in its efforts to fight terrorism, including Red terror. Indian National Security adviser, Ajit Doval met US Secretary of State John Kerry and US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. Mr. Doval extended his stay to the US by a couple of days to have extended talks with his American counterparts.

While Mr. Modi was in the US the Americans signed a treaty with the new Afghan government on extending the stationing of around 10,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014. Mr. Modi had remarked in his address to the Council on Foreign Relations that the US must not hasten withdrawal as they did in Iraq. The US is looking at close cooperation from India in training of Afghan forces and other strategic issues in the region.

The troika of Japan, Australia and India working closely with the US in Indian Ocean region has been worked out. This is a huge step forward and with Philippines and Vietnam joining in, American plans for the region seem to be sewn together.

On the nuclear front, India has assured that the liability clause will be worked out so that American companies along with their Japanese counterparts will have the freedom to bid for various nuclear power plants that India has planned to overcome its growing energy needs.

It appears that the two nations have also decided to work closely to fight terrorism. Not that they did not have mechanisms for the purpose but the difference is that Modi and his team seem to have specific demands to neutralize enemies of the Indian state who have also targeted westerners. The question of fighting terror was endorsed by the Americans.

Indian media was obsessed with whether India is a partner or an ally of the US. The truth of the matter is that US is cooperating more closely with India than with many of its NATO allies. Whether India is a partner or any ally is more a matter of nomenclature than any real import. The sum and substance of the Modi visit to the US was to renew Indo-US ties to the levels Singh and Bush had envisioned and beyond. It was not for no reason that the American President accompanied Modi to Martin Luther King Jr’s memorial. President Obama could see that Indo-US ties had turned a corner. Modi’s US visit was a watershed of sorts. The shared values and world view of the two nations as also their overlapping strategic interests were bound to manifest in the Indian Prime Ministers visit. Till now American President Barack Obama had no plans to visit India in his remaining term. Modi has invited him to visit India. With the new warmth between the two nations that will ‘define the 21st century’ as President Obama remarked, he just might decide to visit New Delhi again.

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