Narendra Modi’s US trip high on optics, low on substance

  • HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Oct 01, 2014 22:31 IST

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s five-day visit to the United States, which ended early Wednesday, saw the two countries affirm ties with extensive diplomatic weasel words and pageantry, but largely failed to resolve vexing trade and investment issues or deliver any big-ticket measures to elevate relations.

Coming on the back of his successful engagements with the heads of Japan and China, with whom he sealed tens of billions of dollars in investment pledges, Modi’s trip to the United States had raised hopes that he would deliver a new cornerstone in bilateral ties which have drifted over the past few years.

The trip, however, did witness a dramatic turnaround from a time when he was denied a US visa for almost a decade, helping him correct the negative image with American policy makers as well as business leaders he will now count on to bring investments to India.

Read: Narendra Modi's US visit: Was it mission accomplished

Still, the two leaders said they had covered key issues including economics, climate change and regional security besides agreeing to negotiate a 10-year extension of a military cooperation framework due to expire at yearend, and joint efforts against terrorism and militant networks such as Lashkar-e-Taiba.

They also agreed on speeding up the implementation of the civil nuclear deal, the landmark 2005 pact that once came to define ties between the two nations but has since lapsed into an onerous issue over market access.

“I had a very successful tour,” Modi told an audience at his last stop, an event hosted by the USIBC, from where he headed straight to the airport for his flight home.

“Thank you, America,” he said, waving to the audience.

Read: Modi's US visit disappointing, no takeaways: Congress

To be fair, Modi’s main aim of the trip would have been to send out the message that India was strong, and that India is ready to engage with Indian-Americans and the US more broadly, analysts say.

For Obama and Modi, the visit was all about the basics: getting to know each other, committing to get the relationship back on track, and promising to push toward even greater cooperation,” said Michael Kugleman of Wilson Center.

To others, the visit amounted to an official clearing of the air after Modi's visa issue and India's outrage at the arrest in New York last year of one of its diplomats, who was charged with visa fraud and paying her nanny less than the minimum wage.

Read: Modi says 'Thank You America' as he ends trip

One think-tanker differed: “In terms of optics it was a huge success, but are we to overlook the absence of deliverables — packages?”

Rick Rossow of the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank said the effort Modi had made to interact directly with business leaders and the Indian diaspora during his visit would have been a great encouragement, given some doubts in the business lobby about his commitment to reform.

"The numbers are already showing business is interested," Rossow said, referring to increases in foreign direct investment and institutional investment since Modi came to power.

Ashley Tellis, an international security specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, called the Obama-Modi vision statements "wonderfully aspirational."

"Now we've got to see whether the policies both sides pursue actually get them to where they want to go. The record thus far does not inspire confidence," he said.

(With input from agencies)

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