Thursday, 9 October 2014

'Kem Chho' Mr Prime Minister? - President Obama

One of the most anticipated visits of Prime Minister Narendra Modi was to the United States that ended up early this month. Anticipated one because this is the same US which denied him a visa earlier in 2005 for the alleged violation of human rights/minority rights for his 'alleged' role in 2002 Godhra riots. Now, the times have changed, the visa seeker CM Modi has turned out to be PM Modi in the run up to the world's biggest democratic elections ever.

Although Obama Administration was pre-occupied with internal as well as external issues, but they showed apparent interest in building new ties with India. It is because, the world has understood that PM Modi is a forceful personality, decisive, capable to take hard decisions and also business friendly. All these templates made it clear that Americans were very much looking forward to engage with the new powerful Prime Minister of India.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi went there with a tag of political as well as economic salesman, carrying brand India in his baggage to the far off the North-West Atlantic Ocean. Narendra Modi's departure statement carried 1/3rd mention to the meeting with President Obama, signaling other significant issues that would come on the table of negotiations during the bilateral talks.

The departure statement can be construed as the marking of start of Indian Renaissance era, and less of geostrategic angle to it. The visit of the United States was perfectly synchronized with the September 25th launch of 'Make In India' campaign to communicate that India is not merely a market now, and it is the upcoming hub of manufacturing. He further advocated his 'Make In India' vision to the US Business community by enlightening the importance of investing in India with the vision of 3D's - Democracy, Demography and Demand. In the strategic point of view, his statement clarified that India wants to be a bridge between the West and the East and at no circumstances, India would be pressurized to make a choice between the two. His article in the Wall Street Journal after his immediate arrival, made it clear that we are interested to re-energize the bilateral relation which was in a state of stagnation from the past few years. In the end, the efforts concluded with the relationship coming on track of incremental improvement with few small steps and big leaps.

The driving force behind the visit were two important issues -
  • First was the act of rebalancing visit of Chinese President in the same month of September.
  • Secondly, PM Modi is the new 'Head of the State', so there were a lot of contemplations regarding him in the West.
It was intended to be a transformational visit from the Indian side, and not from the US's side as Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Nisha Biswal made it clear that US is not looking for a transformative action in this visit. But the Indian expectations of transformational visit didn't materialize in reality. To look at the visit in the context of deliverables, there was nothing substantial on the papers, but off the track, it spread the gospel that Modi era has begun and India will have effective governance, rule of law and predictability in the market, that the businessmen expect.

Liberals complained that major irritants were not discussed in detail like Solar equipment export to India on which US moved to WTO, IPR issues, Federal Aviation Authority of US downgrading Aviation Safety Ranking of India (DGCA), Federal Drug Administration clamping down on Indian pharmaceutical companies like Ranbaxy, Doha Round of Conference on Food subsidies (WTO FTA), impasse over the wrinkled Civil Nuclear Liability Act etc. Liberals also complained that India kept on adding task forces and working groups in this high profile visit too, which was not necessary as it could have been done at the bureaucratic level too and there was no need for a Head of the State visit for it.

Although, the visit should not be envisioned in the context of financial deliverables, but also to the intent that has been imparted through the momentum of forwarding the bilateral relationship. Both countries extended the Defense Cooperation Agreement for another 10 years, which was about to expire in 2015. US agreed for a comprehensive investment strategy in Indian infrastructure, especially building up 3 new smart cities at Ajmer, Allahabad and Vizag.

Joint statement by the head of states of both nations called for an agreement in near future that they will try to resolve the differences over the Civil Nuclear Liability law and America originated nuclear reactors will produce nuclear power in energy hungry India soon. Prime Minsiter Modi also made it clear that he is not against the Free Trade Agreement but he also wants to push his case in the WTO. President Obama looked towards increasing the bilateral trade from current $100 billion to $500 billion in the times to come.

Addressing the business community in US, PM Modi said, " I'm going to reform the policies and processes to make it easy to do business in India." These were the two major issues of US investors as they saw 'Policies' = Never meant to be reformed and 'Processes' = Bureaucratic red tapism. He also said, " You people can come to make money in India, we don't expect you to come and not make money, businesses are born to make money." Such a statement ran like a music to the ears of US investors as it was an out of the line statement by an Indian PM ever, indicating the pro-business image of the head of the Government of India.  But US investments would be guided by the time when Indian industry would start investing seriously and begins to place faith manifestly in Indian market.

The biggest task for which Prime Minister Narendra Modi took out a lot of time is to unite the Indo-American community and build it up as a powerful group to use them in the case of need for lobbying for national interest of India. It was inspired by the Jewish diaspora and their activities that gives legitimacy even to the illegitimate actions of Israel by the US.

Finally, the relationship has been reset at the highest level and the sourness of despair that was prevalent in the bilateral attitude has been neutralized up to some extent. Next few years, especially 2016, when the new President would be sworn in the US, would guide the future course of action. Till then, both India and US do realize the fact that they need each other at least for the next two decades to balance the strategic equations crossing each other's path and destiny.

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