Looking back into the year 2015, among the many things that has transformed the world, if there was one thing that stands out is the closest bond between India and the United States. Under the leadership of U.S. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the ties between the two greatest democracies have evolved into strong and productive.
A “budding bromance” between India and the U.S. or “Modbama” as Foreign Policy called it, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Barack Obama, took their ties to a new high in the year gone by. The year began with Modi, once a persona non grata in the U.S., staging what was called a “diplomatic coup” with an invitation to Obama to be the first U.S. president to be the chief guest at India’s Republic Day.
Beyond the symbolism, Obama’s “game changing” second visit to India in four years saw “Barack” warming up to Modi and sent what the U.S. called an “important message” to the world about their commitment to realise the full potential of India-U.S. relationship. The White House’s first National Security Strategy since 2010 reflected the changing relationship with Obama saying the U.S. was “primed to unlock the potential of its relationship with India” as part of its rebalance to Asia and the Pacific.
Nine months later, Modi returned the compliment with yet another hugely successful visit to the U.S. with a warm hug for Obama, a courtship with Silicon Valley and a love fest with the Indian diaspora. But even before Modi and Obama had their fifth bilateral meeting in New York, the two nations, at their first strategic and commercial dialogue, reached five key agreements.
Topping the list was a decision to step up their counter-terrorism efforts with Washington, for once, recognising the threat posed by South Asian terror groups, including Pakistan based Lashkar-e-Taiba, responsible for the 2008 Mumbai terror attack, and the D company. Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar ended the year on another high note. “Gelling well” with his U.S. counterpart Ashton Carter, they agreed to further expand their growing defence partnership to make it what Carter called an “anchor of global security.”
As Carter welcomed India’s rise in the Asia-Pacific region, the two countries committed to identify additional projects for possible co-development and co-production of high technology items. Meanwhile, Obama called his “friend and partner” Modi a couple of times on a new hotline, first to win his support for the Paris climate deal and then to thank him for India’s positive role in reaching the historic accord.
At his year-end victory lap, Obama highlighted American leadership in bringing China, India and Brazil on board for the Paris climate deal among his successes of 2015 from thawing relations with Cuba to halting Iran’s nuclear program. The White House also acknowledged India’s “substantial sacrifice” in backing the sanctions against Iran that helped Washington seal the deal with Tehran.
“President Obama and Prime Minister Modi have a very, strong and productive relationship, not just on climate change but broadly,” Todd Stern, the U.S. Special Envoy on Climate Change said last week. “It was a quite extraordinary fact that within the space of four months there were two head of the state visits, one first to the United States in September of 2014 and then Prime Minister Modi invited the President to India just four months later in January,” the official said.
Thereafter the two leaders have been close communications with each other. “They met on the margins of the UNGA in New York and they met on the first day of the Paris meeting,” Stern said. According to Stern the meeting was a very warm and positive, cordial and detailed.
“In fact, they talked so long that – they were both supposed to go – and did go finally, but they were a little bit late to the announcement of this big Mission Innovation idea on R&D that both – well, the United States, India, China, many other countries ultimately were part of,” the U.S. official said. “So I think, that the call later, sort of more towards the end, was a check-in call to see how we were doing and to urge us all on together toward a successful conclusion. And I think it was done in that spirit, not in the spirit that there was some specific thing that had to be done before the agreement could get completed,” Stern said.
At the end of the election cycle in November next year, whosoever American voters choose as the new tenant of the White House next November, one thing is clear: Relations between India and the U.S. are poised for a take-off given solid bipartisan support for this.