About a year ago, just about the only parade that mattered in the Indo-US context was the prep walk forced upon Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade in New York. As that event now appears consigned to the dustbin of hysteria, the truly arresting development of the month will be the sight of an American president taking in the Republic Day parade, even if that does mean New Delhi is stifled under security more choking than even the January smog. It doesn't take long for the sentiment enveloping a bilateral relationship to go from bust to robust.
As far as symbolism goes, Barack Obama's presence at Rajpath checks several boxes: It's the second summit engagement within a brief four months; the first time an American president will be viewing what is a celebration modeled upon Soviet synchronised strutting. His nearly two-hour vigil is unusual given that Obama skipped the Paris march against the slaughter of Charlie Hebdo cartoonists since it would have meant far too long an exposure to the outdoors, which American security services keep to a minimum other than his frequent golfing forays.
This is perhaps the appropriate time to quote Indian-born journalist Fareed Zakaria: "The world--and particularly the United States--is courting India as it never has before." That, however, is taken from his 2006 Newsweek cover story, 'India Rising'. At that time, he witnessed the omnipresence of Incredible India at Davos, just as the lion on the Make in India billboards now roars around the Swiss municipality that hosts the annual World Economic Forum meet.
Meanwhile, the commentarati is pregnant with anticipation over deliverables. But it's probably too early for a joint statement to birth big-ticket items. For now, incremental advances, on defence deals, renewable energy, agriculture, counter-terrorism cooperation, should suffice. The real change is that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made his appearance on America's Most Wanted list, but not quite in the manner his detractors may have wanted.
Obama's acceptance of the invite to view the march past and tableaux of January 26, remains rooted in the sort of economic logic that prompted him to host former PM Manmohan Singh as his guest for the first State dinner of his presidency. His administration understands that it's among a gaggle of those courting India at this juncture, as Russia's ambassador to New Delhi, Alexander Kadakin, recently said, "India is a rich fiancé with many bridegrooms."
The World Bank has estimated that India's growth may surpass that of China by 2017 and that underscores the necessity the White House perceives in pandering to the partnership. And as Obama comes calling, this provides an opportunity for India to leverage its position for concessions. In November 2010, hours before he spoke to a joint sitting of Parliament, Indian envoys were crowing in quite undiplomatic language about how they had the US cornered into announcing that it would support India's aspirations to a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.
There's plenty that India can seek: From possibly getting a look into the Five Eyes programme for monitoring terrorism globally to a viable understanding on Afghanistan to whittling US generosity to Pakistan's military or even worse, choke off the online porn pipelines into Pakistan, the top consumer of such smut according to Google search trends, and watch its populace explode in pent up...er...rage.
If three years of drift have taught us anything, it should be that such opportunities won't always come knocking; those windows can close. Zakaria made that point in his nine-year-old article: "The danger for India is that this moment might not last forever." The momentum should not be frittered away.
Just last winter Beltway bigwigs were carping that India wasn't doing enough re reforms to warrant the waxing of America's attention. Since then, the rhetoric over a maid in Manhattan has made way for a Mann ki Baat saath saath. As America, literally, becomes more invested in India, the reboot's on the other foot.