Joe Biden speaks with Narendra Modi in the East Room of the White House in Washington. File/Associated Press
The grand reception accorded to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the US by President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden on June 22 at the White House — to which a large number of US nationals of Indian origin were invited — demonstrated three new aspects of the US-India friendship.
These aspects are: the two largest democracies are set to lead the democratic world in facing both ‘challenges and opportunities’ in the times ahead, the Americans of Indian origin are bringing pride to both nations, and the Indo-US relationship now embraces all aspects of defence and security.
These are clearly the new benchmarks set to define what looks like an irreversible friendship between the two countries.
It is indeed remarkable that there are no conceivable negatives about this relationship notwithstanding India’s balanced approach to the Ukraine-Russia military conflict and a strong lobby in the US questioning the alleged erosion of freedom of expression in India under the Modi regime. In their opening remarks, both Biden and Modi referred to the democratic base of the Constitution of the two countries rooted in the words ‘We the people’ and spoke of their shared commitment to world peace and advance of democratic values.
International relations in today’s geopolitics are determined by both security and economic concerns of the nations but the geo-strategic dimensions had the overriding importance — significantly the National Security Advisors of India and the US, Ajit Doval and Jake Sullivan, were the only other invitees to the private dinner and musical evening that President Biden hosted for the Indian Prime Minster at the White House on the first night of the visit itself.
Prime Minister Modi’s comprehensive, informative and powerful address at the US Congress was undoubtedly the best presentation of India’s progress in recent years, its civilisational strength and its vision of a peaceful ‘one world’. He called for a new world order- post-Covid- marked by a seamless Indo-US cooperation for economic growth, security and environmental sustainability.
His commitment to India’s national interests stood out as he marshalled the facts of India’s advance in digitalisation, the success of ‘direct transfers’ to the poor and the mutuality of gains that would result for both the countries from American investments in India. Modi’s emphasis on India speaking with ‘one voice’ despite its vast diversity in terms of language, customs and ways of worship was an effective counter to those who had been building a narrative of India’s internal ‘divisiveness’.
The Prime Minister pointed out that from being ‘a stranger’ in the area of defence cooperation, the US is now one of the largest defence collaborators for India. On important geopolitical developments, the Prime Minister was characteristically upfront as he forcefully upheld the right of all stakeholders to demand ‘an open rules-based order’ in the Indo-Pacific and oppose any aggression and encroachment there, reiterated in the context of Ukraine-Russia military confrontation, that ‘this was not the era of war’ and called for peaceful negations to end the ‘human misery’ resulting from the conflict and made strong advocacy for full membership for African Union in the G20.
He was clearly advising President Putin to heed the call for peace negotiations with Ukraine under the UN charter but he did that without joining in the criticism of Russia for its military intervention in that country. On China, Prime Minister Modi said that dark clouds of ‘coercion and confrontation’ were looming large over the Indo-Pacific and left no one in doubt that India was fully committed to Quad for protecting the freedom of the region. All of this secured a complete convergence of the stand of the US and India against China as the common adversary — India’s unlimited cooperation with the US in areas across the spectrum — from space to ocean — gives a message to China that any aggression in the Indian Ocean would be effectively put down.
What was implicit in India’s approach to Russia — and this seems to have been grasped by the US-led West finally — was that nothing should be done to irreversibly push Putin into the Chinese camp as this would not be in the strategic interest of either the US or India. Prime Minister Modi put the development agenda on top by highlighting the need for rebuilding supply chains disrupted by Covid and the Ukraine-Russia conflict and demonstrated his political will in solving problems without giving in to challenges. He used the occasion successfully to project India as the leader of the Global South and hence a world power in its own right. He spoke in English and spoke with his heart and his address was full of alliterations therefore, made a huge impact.
This US visit of Prime Minister Modi has proved to be of immense importance for the build-up it has given to the vision that in today’s conflict-ridden geopolitics, the forces of democracy can prevail over the undemocratic regimes and create a peaceful and prosperous world — the degree of unity demonstrated by the two largest democracies of the world gave credence to this global thought.
India and the US certainly looked like ‘equal’ partners in this mission and this perhaps would be the strongest point of this visit — the credit for pushing India up to this special status, squarely going to Prime Minister Modi.
The fact that under the Modi regime Indian economy rose to fifth position from the earlier tenth and that it is on its way to becoming the third largest in the quickest time is a tribute to the Prime Minister’s initiatives and strong governance.
The visit also marks a crowning glory for India’s handling of international relations and this would surely enhance the political standing of Prime Minister Modi at home. If the economic development of India leads to the betterment of the average Indian, the Modi regime would gain electorally too. In India, the opposition is feeling squeezed because of the popular support enjoyed by Prime Minister Modi over and above the party’s influence. The narrative of the Modi government promoting majoritarianism and authoritarianism and not giving protection to the minorities has not caught up and in a rare interaction with media in Washington, Prime Minister affirmed that there was no discrimination in India on the basis of caste, creed and region and that he believed in ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas and sabka vishwas’ thus placing his government’s policy of putting all citizens on the same footing, on record.
Addressing a huge gathering of Indian ex-pats at Reagan Centre on the last day of his US visit, Prime Minister Modi declared that the ‘new journey’ started by India with the US will ‘reshape the world’ and expressed confidence that the big investments from the US will give a boost to job creation and innovation in India. He emphasised that the multiple tech-linked accords with the US would help India break new ground.
Prime Minister must be complimented for thinking big as far as India’s economic growth was concerned and presenting India as a proud nation willing to partner with the US on global advancement and peace.