“Hugely symbolic”, “important symbolically”, “of great symbolism”, is how White House officials have described President’ Barack Obama’s coming India visit.
Indians have taken much the same tack, but in off-record conversations; they sought the safety of opaque suggestions of “deliverables in the works” otherwise.
India-US experts agree, asking enthusiast to dial down expectations of major announcements. And they used those same words — “symbolic”, “symbolism”.
And that word again, used by President Obama himself, in an interview to India Today: “And while I recognize the important symbolism of this visit, I also see it as an opportunity to work with Prime Minister Modi to make concrete progress and to hopefully begin a new era in the history between our countries.”
When the two leaders meet at Hyderabad House on Saturday there will, indeed, be much on their agenda — trade, nuclear deal, climate change, counter-terrorism, defence.
There will also be a joint statement, which will, as such documents do, detail those talks, mark progress where achieved and identify areas needing attention.
There are expectations of an agreement of sorts on the way forward on the stalled nuclear deal, a new defence cooperation framework, and something on climate change.
Officials on both side have refused to detail them ahead of the meeting. Look out for tweets from Modi, who himself broke news of his invitation to Obama. In a tweet.
“The symbolism is really big,” Ashley Tellis, dean of DC experts on India-US relations, told a group of American reporters travelling to India for the presidential visit.
It sends a signal to three audiences, he explained. First, from Modi to sceptics on relations with the US in his own party. Second, to the neighbourhood. And third, the world.
It’s a great move that “kills many birds with one stone”.