Itinerary, agenda and guests of honour: All about Obama's India visit

  • HT Correspondents, Hindustan Times, New Delhi/Washington DC
  • Updated: Jan 24, 2015 01:44 IST

US President Barack Obama will start a three-day landmark trip to India on Sunday on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's invitation to build on what he has said will be one of the defining relationships of the 21st century.

Obama, who is the first US president to be invited as the chief guest at the Republic Day parade, will be in India for the second time and is not scheduled to visit any other country before returning to Washington.

He first came to India in November 2010, during the United Progressive Alliance government's tenure, at the invitation of then prime minister Manmohan Singh. He had addressed a joint session of Parliament.

Besides taking part in the Republic Day celebrations, Obama will also talk business and try to foster closer economic and defence ties with India.

Here's all you wanted to know about the visit:

What and when:

January 25, Sunday

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama reach Delhi on Sunday morning.

There will be a ceremonial reception at Rashtrapati Bhavan and an inspection of guards after which he will pay homage at Mahatma Gandhi's samadhi at Raj Ghat. President Obama and Prime Minister Modi will meet at Hyderabad House for delegation level talks on an entire range of issues.

President Obama and First Lady will later attend a state dinner at Rashtrapati Bhavan.

January 26, Monday

Both the President and First Lady attend the Republic Day parade, stay for the entire show. White House officials compared the long "public exposure" to the presidential inaugurations, which last for hours, and include parades.

They will attend all related ceremonial events, possibly (possibly, because it was not specified by the White House officials) the President's At Home, an elegant affair on the lawns of the sprawling Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Not clear of the timing, before or after the At Home, but the Prime Minister and the President will meet business leaders and CEOs, for a lengthy interaction — CEOs' forum, round-table.

January 27, Tuesday

President Obama and Prime Minister Modi to jointly address his monthly radio programme 'Mann ki Baat' on state-run All India Radio. Modi's high-octane communication strategy is at times compared with that of Obama's, who also makes a weekly radio address from White House.

While Modi's radio talk has been a hit in terms of listenership, the one by Obama has faded into relative irrelevance, according to US media analysts.

President Obama also plans to do a policy speech about relations with India.

The Obamas will then leave for Agra and see the Taj Mahal at the end of their three-day trip.

All the President's men and women:

Along with First Lady Michelle Obama, Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House of Representatives, Democratic Senator Mark Warner, and a host of other lawmakers, cabinet members, and business leaders will accompany Obama to India. But the first daughters Malia and Sasha will not be coming over. The White House said Malia, 16, and Sasha, 13, travel with their parents only when they are on vacation from school.

- First Lady Michelle Obama
- USTR Michael Froman
- Commerce secretary Penny Pritzker
- National Security Adviser Susan Rice
- Counselor to the President John Podesta (who appears headed for a senior position in a possible Hillary Clinton campaign)
- Minority leader Nancy Pelosi
- Senator Mark Warner, co-chair of the India caucus
- Representative (D) Joe Crowley, former co-chair of India caucus
- Representative Ami Bera (D), the only Indian American in the House, and the new co-chair of the India caucus
- A team of business leaders and CEOs

What are the issues at hand?

Strategic importance

India's size, location, fast-growing economy and potential as a democratic counterbalance to China makes the South Asian nation an increasingly key element of US military and commercial strategy.

In return for closer ties, India wants greater cooperation on terrorism and access to high-technology goods for civilian and military use.

Counter-terrorism engagement

The two will revive a regular cabinet-level homeland security dialogue that lapsed during the last three years of the UPA government.

While Indian intelligence is comfortable with its surveillance techniques, it recognises that it lags in the area of decryption and will seek US help in this area. Cyber security in general will be a major focus of both countries.

There will be a push to increase cooperation and share knowhow in internal security methods like megacity policing, maritime and coastal surveillance, global supply chain security and terrorist financing.

India will also seek diplomatic support for the ratification of the UN Convention on Terrorism, a charter Washington has shied away from because of opposition by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

The US wants greater and faster information sharing about individuals linked to the Islamic State. It is particularly concerned about 'lone wolf' terrorists self-radicalised via the internet.


The United States overtook Russia as the biggest weapons supplier to India, the Indian government said in August. India is the world's
biggest importer of weapons and the United States is the biggest arms supplier.

Standing in the way of closer ties are Indian restrictions on foreign companies owning majority stakes in defence companies and US curbs on exporting certain technologies.

Civil nuclear

US and Indian officials will discuss ways to unblock billions of dollars of potential trade in nuclear energy.India and the United States signed a landmark civilian nuclear deal in 2008. Holding up the trade is India’s reluctance to pass legislation shielding suppliers from liability in the event of a nuclear accident, a deviation from international norms.

Indian and US officials have been engaged in close consultations. Delhi has said it cannot change the law – but is willing to address US concerns within that framework, by offering an insurance pool which can cover supplier liability. Officials say there has been progress, but emphasise that even if there is a breakthrough, what can be expected is a change in US government’s approach to the issue. Details will eventually have to be worked out by US companies with Indian counterparts for specific projects.

Renewable energy

India has already increased its commitment to produce 100,000 MW of renewable energy by 2022; US support and technology will be welcome but no bilateral deal is in the offing.

India wants companies from the US to help lead investments of $100 billion in renewable energy. Prime Minister Modi promised to help renewable energy companies overcome entry to the Indian market during his trip to Washington last year. A barrier to investment is a requirement that foreign companies make much of the equipment within India, which business leaders say will push up costs.

Climate Change

The United States and India are expected to announce efforts to work together to combat climate change ahead of key global talks in Paris later this year. India, the world's third largest carbon emitter, is reluctant to follow the United States and China in committing to a peak year for emissions on the grounds it needs economic growth to alleviate poverty.

Instead, India is likely to trumpet its plans for a rapid expansion of renewable energy, for which it needs US investment and technology, and improving energy efficiency.

Economic ties

Modi and Obama last year targeted a five-fold increase in annual trade to $500 billion. But US business leaders have been frustrated by limits on their access to the Indian market, and battles over intellectual property protection. India and the United States have also filed several cases against each other at the World Trade Organisation over protection of their domestic steel, poultry and solar industries.

On the Bilateral Investment treaty, officials say a new template is being prepared – which will keep sovereign guarantees out of commercial disputes – and there may be the initiation of negotiations.

Visa on arrival

India and the US are exploring the possibility of an agreement designed to allow limited visa-on-arrival or visa-less travel between their countries, say sources in Washington. The first step would be for the US to share specific technologies – for airline passenger risk assessment and facial recognition, for instance – necessary to make this possible.

Smart cities, more Fulbright scholarships

US has committed to develop three smart cities – Vizag, Ajmer, and Allahabad. The next step is operationalising their engagement with state governments. US has committed increase Fulbright scholars – the focus is in identifying Indian research shortcomings, tapping into those areas of expertise, and eventually academic institutions tying up.

(With inputs from Reuters)

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