After Narendra Modi’s victory, people are looking at the future with optimism not only in India but also in the US. This strengthening of the Indo-US relationship, however, is not a foregone conclusion — it will take careful work by both sides. The US has taken an important first step: The symbolism of President Barack Obama’s invitation to Modi to visit Washington should not be underestimated. This indicates that the US is ready to work with Modi and that it would not let the visa issue cloud bilateral relations. Modi should accept the invitation without delay.
The bilateral relationship, however, does not hinge on the visa issue alone. Both sides share the responsibility for letting the relationship recede and now both share the responsibility for rebuilding it. There are many areas that can help set things on the right path.
For starters, the US must reach out to the Modi government at all levels, re-establishing the strong engagement that it once had with the BJP. Despite close collaboration during AB Vajpayee’s rule, contact between the BJP and the US has since waned almost to the point of non-existence. This needs to be rectified. It is also time to let the trade issues recede from the headlines. The last few years have demonstrated the ineffectiveness of the current approach: Solar content requirements, intellectual property rights, agricultural subsidies and myriad other trade issues have only pulled the two governments apart.
Major American companies look to India as a potentially lucrative market and vice versa. Allowing private firms to work out their own business and investment relationships will result in increased benefits in both countries. Complementing this, the US and India should highlight the areas of the relationship that have made impressive progress: Military cooperation, including joint defence exercises, and counter-terrorism efforts.
Thus far, bilateral issues have dominated the discussions, and rightly so. But as India transforms itself into regional and future global power, the relationship needs to demonstrate the benefits of such an engagement to other developing countries. There were hints of this during Obama’s visit to India when a joint initiative to provide development assistance to Africa was announced. But its implementation was stalled.
The relationship between the US and India will continue to have its high and low points as before but the BJP now has a historic opportunity to firm it up.
Anish Goel is a senior South Asia fellow, New America Foundation. He previously served in the White House’s National Security Council as senior director for South Asia
The views expressed by the author are personal