Series of meetings, private dinner, greetings in Gujarati later, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US president Barack Obama took to penning a joint editorial in The Washington Post, etching out a new partnership conducive to the needs and rhythms of 21st century. Walking side-by-side (chalein saath saath) is the crux of the message that the two leaders (one commanding the world’s oldest democracy, and the other, world’s largest) gave out in their co-authored opinion piece, which could be viewed both as a vision as well as a strategy template for rebooting Indo-US bilateral relationship.
Lofty expectations, including commitment to ‘homeland security, intelligence sharing, cooperation in counterterrorism, increasing investment through larger inflow of FDI, better trade laws and commercial ambience, and more equal partnership, were underscored in the declaration of co-dependence.
The idea of being ‘natural allies’, first voiced by former PM AB Vajpayee, has been only furthered in this getting-to-know-each-other rendezvous between Modi and Obama, and this, evidently, is only the beginning of a moderate innings of Indo-US ties, at least as long as President Obama is in office in White House. Belief in democracy, common ideological icons and long history of anti-colonial struggle obviously put India and the United States on the same side, although international imperatives and foreign policy divergences have often pulled Washington and New Delhi in diametrically opposite directions. Moreover, in the post-War era, it is the one-sided US-led mercantile inequalities that have overshadowed more fundamental similarities.
However, Indo-American geostrategic ties have had too many ups and downs in the past decade. While former PM Manmohan Singh should be credited for substantially thawing the ties, we cannot still allow US to arm-twist India into submitting to its extremely unethical and downright exploitative trade whimsies. Hence, while the joint editorial spells out grand ideas of cooperation in every sphere, there are massive thorns that need to be plucked in order to put the relationship on a higher and more equitable gear.
How can cooperation in defence and counterterrorism sector be independent of the tainted past of NSA surveillance of top Indian diplomats, bureaucrats, politicians? How can parity in healthcare and medicine be mutually exclusive from US-led Big Pharma’s drive to monopolise manufacturing and distribution of life-saving drugs at exorbitant, clearly inaccessible, prices? What about US obsession with intellectual property rights on one hand and pledges for technology transfer on the other? How to read Indo-US desire to upgrade nuclear cooperation from civil to defence purposes without Washington’s six-year-old pressure tactics to remove the absolutely integral liability clause?
Evidently, the rebooting of Indo-US ties will need many more careful and level-headed sittings than the first, undoubtedly starry, diplomatic date.