America rolls out red carpet for PM Modi

One word which has kept cropping up during the preparations for this much-awaited visit is ‘strategic’ – thus, strategic interest, strategic balance, strategic convergence

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

Way back in 1997 when a few of us sat down to have tea with and talk to Narendra Modi, none of us could ever imagine that someday he would become the Prime Minister of India. He had accompanied Union Minister Murli Manohar Joshi to the International Ramayana Conference that was being held at the MGI, and we met for about half an hour before he was due to address the audience. That was the first time ever that I heard him and was in awe of his oratory and his command of the language. Whereas the other speakers had used some English words and expressions, his whole speech was in pure Hindi.

America rolls out red carpet for PM Modi. Pic – Al Jazeera

That impressive encounter re-surfaced in my mind when he was announced as the BJP candidate for PM in 2014, and I have since followed his journey with great attention and interest. In a way this was inevitable, because of my deep connection with my ancestral and spiritual Motherland. In 1965 I began my medical studies there on a Government of India scholarship and got married during my internship in New Delhi. Profession and family connections meant that my links with India have constantly deepened and strengthened, as a result of which it is almost second nature to follow events taking place there from all angles.

India -US connects

Many of my classmates and internship colleagues planned to do specialist studies, and possibly settle in the US; eventually several did, so India-US matters were always a matter of both interest and concern. One issue was the US support to Pakistan during what is known as the Bangladesh war of December 1971, when the US sent an aircraft carrier to the Bay of Bengal. This didn’t sit well with Indian citizens. One day one of them gave a lift to a foreigner who was walking in Chanakyapuri, the diplomatic enclave in New Delhi. As the latter sat down, the driver asked if he was American. When he replied in the affirmative, the driver stopped the car and told him ‘Get down!’

I was in India in December 1995 when I read about the US having put pressure on the Russian company Glavkosmos to rescind its contract with India about supplying technology for the production of cryogenic fuel to be used in missiles. The result: Indian scientists went on to develop their own version of cryogenic fuel which they have been using successfully since. The other sticking point in the US-India relationship that comes to my mind is the remark allegedly made by President Bill Clinton that I reproduce from memory, as reported in The Economist, when India exploded a nuclear bomb in 1998, namely ‘We will come down on these guys like a ton of bricks!’ The US had no inkling at all of the explosion after until after it happened.

But since then, Bill Clinton as well as Barrack Obama have gone on official visits to India, the latter twice, 2010 and 2015 respectively. The relationship between India and the US can be described as a see-saw one: sharp, edgy ups and downs rather than a smoother wave-like pattern. And this despite State Visits by PM Nehru in the 1950s, President S. Radhakrishnan in 1963, PM Indira Gandhi in 1982, PM Manmohan Singh. PM Narendra Modi was on an official visit in 2016, and this second one is pitched at the highest level of a state visit.

Modi takes it to the next level

The high expectations on both sides during this second visit, and the red-carpet welcome to PM Modi makes one reflect on how much water has flowed under the bridge since. The relationship has been evolving towards better understanding of each other’s interest(s) and greater maturity. One word which has kept cropping up during the preparations for this much-awaited visit is ‘strategic’ – thus, strategic interest, strategic balance, strategic convergence, amongst others. It has even been said that India and the US are natural allies.

All negative criticisms of India notwithstanding, its rise and visibility on the global stage ever since Modi took over are undeniable. India is the world’s most populous country and the largest democracy with a 3.2 trillion USD economy that has taken it to the fifth position globally, and as it is the fastest growing economy at over 7%, it is slated to reach fourth position at 5 trillion USD by 2025. It has a 300 million strong young demographic of English-speaking skilled labour, and a five-million successful diaspora in the US. Several corporate giants such as Google and Microsoft are headed by Indian origin CEOs. India, so say the experts, is an investment destination.

Trade, business and technology deals are expected to be inked during this highly significant visit. They relate to both civilian and military sectors. For example, manufacture of semiconductor chips (Foxcom is already present in India) and the transfer of jet engine technology, with jet engines to be manufactured in India in a contract expected to be signed between General Electric and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. Further, India is likely to be supplied with 30 predator drones, to the tune of nearly 3-billion USD. A flavour of what all may be on the table is perhaps the order placed by Air India for several hundred Boeing aircraft. It was of such magnitude that, according to a former Indian ambassador to the US, President Biden took up the phone to thank PM Modi. That order would provide jobs to one million Americans across 46 states. The deals to be agreed upon are expected to be mutually beneficial in terms of both job creation and lifting up the economy, as well as reduce inflation which is at an unacceptably high level in the US. Diversity of supply chains is another benefit being looked at.

Similar too was the thrust of Obama’s visit in 2010. There were headlines in the Indian press to the effect that President Obama was coming job-shopping in India, as he and his wife Michelle went on a charm offensive starting from Bombay. They were both received with the gracious if not ingratiating generosity of Indians towards those who come from Europe or North America, and they clearly savoured every moment.

Deals of about 10 billion US dollars were agreed upon, and President Obama gloated over the fact that this would lead to the creation of over 50,000 jobs in the US. Earlier in his presidency, he had been critical of jobs being outsourced from Houston to Bangalore, the IT hub of India. Indians in general had not digested his remarks well. Clearly, though, the winds of change have overtaken both countries with an apparent reversal of roles – compared to what had been happening till recently – and if it serves the interest of both countries to maintain this kind of relationship, so much the better for them as well as the whole world.

Is that what is meant by ‘strategic autonomy’? I will leave that to the experts to decide. Suffice it to say that this is the rising New India, and PM Modi is the world’s most popular leader. In the words of external Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, ‘India will defend India’s interest’. After all, that’s what all countries do isn’t it, defending and safeguarding their own interest. Quoi de plus naturel?

NaMoSTE America.

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 23 June 2023

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