A year ago, few could have anticipated the sight of United States President Barack Obama offering Prime Minister Narendra Modi a personal tour of the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial in Washington DC. The scale of Mr Modi’s mandate has caused the world to sit up and take notice. India-US summits are usually marked by grandiose rhetoric about democracy, values, strategic consonance and shared purpose. This visit had its share of those but in more restrained terms to reflect sombre contemporary outlooks. The two sides have not achieved breakthroughs on trade disputes, intellectual property regimes and nuclear liability legislation but have resolved to intensify consultations. The three documents released during the visit — the vision statement, the editorial drafted by both leaders and the joint statement — however show that the relationship has plenty of substance chugging away on autopilot that puts bilateral ties in a position to reach the desired heights once mutual concerns are met.
India and the US cooperate on a variety of political subjects and technical spheres including terrorism, Afghanistan, defence, maritime issues, space, health, education and energy. Mr Modi and Mr Obama have decided to continue expanding bureaucratic and business contacts to scope opportunities and establish networks that can take advantage of improvements in the business climate. Both sides have committed to bring together businesses, governments and scientists to improve public services in India. The private sector and civil society will together drive innovation to improve sanitation and hygiene across India. The governments will discuss ways to boost manufacturing and expand affordable renewable energy. The summit unveiled important steps to cooperate on climate change that includes a partnership to develop climate resilience and work together to tackle hydrofluorocarbons. No specific defence deals were signed but a new task force will evaluate and decide on projects and technologies that can improve India’s capabilities. The joint statement does not shy away from China-related language referring to rising tensions over maritime territorial disputes in the South China Sea and affirming the freedom of navigation and over flight paths throughout the region. India-US counterterrorism cooperation will continue owing in part to shared concerns about the reach of the Lashkar-e-Taiba.
The PM’s visit definitely helped sustain the ambition in India-US ties. What’s needed now is a careful political shepherding of bureaucratic negotiations and a resolve to improve the domestic climate for investment.