By Vijay Darda | 26-01-2015
When American President Barack Obama stands as the chief guest at the Rajpath this year with the Republic Day parade passing before him, the event will go beyond the symbolism of the world’s most powerful democracy acknowledging the largest democracy in the world. The firsts involved in this landmark occasion by themselves amplify the significance several times over. It is the first time a US President is attending the Republic Day celebrations of another country and also the first time a US President is visiting a country twice during his tenure. For Prime Minister Narendra Modi to have extended the invitation to President Obama within four months of a high profile visit to America is a testimony to his audacious realism about the heights the partnership between the countries can rise in the foreseeable future. The acceptance of this invite by White House is the most powerful endorsement of the shared dreams and goals for our two democracies.
The signals emanating from President Barack Obama even before he stepped on the Indian soil made it clear that now this bilateral relationship has entered a phase where specific agreements and their timing will not in any way impact the quality of Indo-US joint future. For instance there was the operationalisation of the civil nuclear agreement which demanded some tough negotiations between the two sides. After the September summit in Washington there had been three meetings between the contact study group to resolve the pending issues and the issue got settled during this visit. Both the countries have succeeded in breaking the logjam after reaching an understanding on the contentious civil nuclear liability issue. This outcome surely elevates the relationship to a new high. It also further cements the strategic partnership that began in the Vajpayee era and continued within the two five-year terms of Dr Manmohan Singh.
But the beauty of the emerging Indo-US bilateral and multi-lateral engagements is that even as the nuclear segment occupies the pride of place, the other areas such as clean energy, green technology, cooperation in defence production, sharing of resources and expertise in security and intelligence matters particularly in the context of the global terror challenges make a shared enterprise between the two countries a compelling imperative. Though it is customary in diplomatic parlance to assert that relations between two sovereign nations are independent of the influence of any third countries, the reality is that when it comes to the Indo-US landscape of relations there is no way in which both China and Pakistan can be ignored.
Obama’s pre-visit messages for Pakistan on terror incidents are a clear proof of this third dimension in the otherwise bilateral equation. With regard to China this may not reflect in security matters but would come into play when issues of global trade climate change and reforms of various international bodies like the UN Security Council, the World Bank or the IMF are actualised.
There is a strong humane side to this bilateral relationship. At the people- to- people level the two nations are getting so involved that all the hiccups of the Devyani Khobragade-type incident notwithstanding there is no option but to forge better strategic partnerships in all fields. This is not to deny the existence of problem areas but just to emphasise the point that when millions of people are engaged in a day-to-day basis in trade, commerce and information technology, the governments on both sides have an axiomatic responsibility to strengthen the institutional structure of their relationship. In the absence of this structure, the people on both sides would suffer and as democratically elected entities the governments can ill afford such a situation. So, both Modi and Obama have the responsibility to ensure that the ties between their two countries are structured in such a way that these can withstand the downs while maximising the gains from the ups. Indeed more than any specific agreement that would be signed it is the laying of such a foundation that would be seen as a far more healthier outcome from this second summit in less than six months.
Prior to this visit, political commentators have made rather uncharitable comments about President Obama’s lame duck status in the context of two facts. The defeats for the Democrats in mid-term Senate and Congress elections and then the fact that he is in the last lap of his two-term presidency. There can be no arguments about these facts, but the only point worth making is that national sovereign governments engage with each other through their chosen representatives and the decisions do not change with alteration in regimes. In fact Modi and his party — the BJP — are a prime illustration in this context. Modi is now working hard to operationalise the same agreement which the BJP had opposed to the extent of bringing a no-confidence motion against the UPA government on the same issue and tried to unseat it. So, even if Obama’s political rivals back home oppose some of his decisions in the Indian context, now it could be natural to expect that future US governments would honour these. The lame duck President argument does not hold water. The fact is that an American President has all the authority vested in him by the power of his elected office till a successor takes oath and comes to office, nothing detracts from that power and authority.
In the historical context it needs to be pointed out that all well meaning Indian and American citizens and opinion makers have had a lingering regret that both of us democracies with the same liberal and plural ethos have somehow for reasons better left unsaid at this positive moment in the trajectory of our relationship not worked together in a manner that would have immensely benefitted both of us but even got this world rid of many problems. From that holistic perspective, this presidential visit on such a defining moment as the celebration of the anniversary of the Indian republic also offers the right moment for a historic course correction. Prime Minister Narendra Modi made the beginning in September and let us hope President Barack Obama consolidates it.
The implications of a solid Indo-US all round partnership from regional and global standpoints are such that these can only be seen in win-win terms. The impetus for the respective economies that are fighting recession can only be positive for both the peoples. The fact that meetings with the corporate honchos are on the agenda and the entourage accompanying the President has high powered business bureaucrats from the US also shows the priority that is accorded to this aspect of the relationship. On its part the Modi government has been consistently sending out signals that it means business. So, this is the right time to make all the moves in all sectors that set the parameters of the Indo-US relationship.
Before I conclude…
It would be recalled that at the peak of the anti-corruption movement led by Team Anna the dominant mood in the country was anti-politician. They were blamed for all the ills of the country. Now, as Delhi goes to polls we find that the two leading lights of Team Anna have not only joined politics but are on the opposite side of the fence battling each other. Unlike Kejriwal who has referred to his Team Anna partner Kiran Bedi, the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate, as an opportunist, as a public representative I just extend them a warm welcome to the real world of politics. Just remember name calling is bad manners in good politics and that politics is not such a bad thing.