Obama visit: Indian focus on ‘incremental, tangible’ outcomes, rather than ‘big ticket items’

  • Prashant Jha, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jan 24, 2015 01:56 IST

Taking away the focus from the ‘so called big-ticket items’, India believes the real accomplishment in President Barrack Obama’s visit will be the ‘smaller but tangible, incremental outcomes’. This includes deepening cooperation in areas like security, urbanization, education, defence, and possibly. nuclear energy.

“How do we marry our development needs with US commerce interests? We need investment, technology, a secure environment. US can contribute to each of this. But this can happen not through obsession with big ticket items, but concrete action-oriented outcomes,” an official explained to HT. For this, there has been ‘unparalleled engagement’ at multiple levels.

Delhi believes these ‘small but important’ achievements, coupled with the symbolism inherent in a US president attending India’s Republic day celebrations for the first time, is arresting the perception of ‘drift in ties’. “The narrative has changed from it being a transactional relationship to one that is strategic.”

On nuclear liability, 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.

There are other instances of this focused approach. 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.

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. On homeland security, they may deepen cooperation on IEDs. On climate change, 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.

“The nitty gritty is important. The big ticket is Obama coming. What can cap that? But the real juice is in details of small initiatives.” It may not be headline grabbing, but that is what is keeping Indian diplomats up preparing for the visit.

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