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#4770, 11 December 2014

Eagle Eye

India-US: Significance of the Second Modi-Obama Meet
Chintamani Mahapatra
Professor at the Centre for Canadian, US and Latin American Studies, JNU

In less than four months, the new Prime Minister of India and US President Barack Obama will meet for their second summit in New Delhi. The first summit was the outcome of Obama’s initiative when he called the newly elected Prime Minister of India and invited him to visit the US. Modi, who was denied a visa for about a decade by the US State Department, promptly and positively responded to Obama’s invitation. The result was the first summit between the two leaders in late September 2014.

The planned second summit between Modi and Obama is the result of an innovative initiative by Prime Minister Modi who invited the US President to be the Chief Guest at the Republic Day celebration in India on 26 January 2015. This time it was Obama’s turn to swiftly accept Modi’s invitation.

The first Modi-Obama summit was indeed an event that broke the frozen ice in the diplomatic ties between the two countries. No bilateral relationship in international relations is without political and economic frictions. But the diplomatic discord that resulted from the Devyani Khobragade episode had threatened to stall the fast moving strategic partnership between India and the US and a summit between the leadership of the two countries was essential to restore the momentum.

It is admitted on all hands that the first Modi-Obama Summit turned out to be highly successful step in renewing the cordial ties between New Delhi and Washington. Firstly, Very rarely countries issue joint vision statements before the summit and in this case the issuance of a joint Indo-US vision statement raised expectations that the final outcome of the summit would be a positive one. Secondly, President Obama and Prime Minister Modi co-authored an article that was published in the influential Washington Post that hinted at better days to come in the diplomatic ties between the two countries. After the summit, a joint statement issued by the two leaders, moreover, contained language that indicated India’s boldness in taking clear positions and the determination of the two leaders to address certain crucial issues in the current global scenario. The first one was related to the need to tackle the menace created by the ISIS the West Asian region and the second one was about political turbulence in the South China Sea raising uncertainties over freedom of navigation.

Modi’s announcement of his government’s plan to provide visas on arrival to American citizens was a master diplomatic stroke in the backdrop of the history of US visa denial to him. Significantly, Modi’s first meeting with President Obama took place after his summit meetings with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping - the two most powerful Asian powers. Modi had also met Russian President Vladirmir Putin on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in Brazil.

All these signalled the new Indian government’s foreign policy goals to develop cordial and constructive ties with all major powers of the world. Modi’s visit to the US was not meant to put all eggs in the American basket. In fact, Japan’s commitment of US$35 billion dollars and China’s commitment US$20 billion foreign investment in India had encouraged Modi to draw a substantial amount of FDI from the US. It is true that the American system of economy would not permit President Obama to compete with Japan and China in promoting foreign investment in India. But Modi was well aware of the American situation and he held separate meeting with the CEOs of many topnotch American companies. And, according to an estimate, the total potential US investment that Modi could attract could be the tune of more than US$40 billion.

None, however, could foresee that Modi and Obama would be ready so soon to have a second summit. They met each other on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit in Myanmar and on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Australia and appear to have hit it off.

The resilience and expansion of the ISIS influence, the resurgence of the Taliban threat in Afghanistan, instability in nuclear-armed Pakistan and China’s apparently unstoppable assertiveness provide a significant rationale for the second Indo-US summit.

On the other hand, Modi’s economic vision for India, his robust economic diplomacy and the value of the Indian market for US companies provide the required pull-factor for President Obama’s visit to India in January 2015. It is only appropriate to say that an American President’s presence in the Republic Day celebration in India has been long-awaited necessity, and it is better late than ever! It will be an inspiration for other democracies and add value to role of democracy in world affairs. In the world of diplomacy, symbols are as important as substance.

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