Hailing the United States as India’s “natural global partner”, Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in New York on Friday for a historic and high-profile five-day visit that will see him address the UN General Assembly and a sold-out rally at Madison Square Garden, hold talks with President Barack Obama and with several top business leaders.
After an overnight halt and nine-hour flight from Frankfurt, the PM, 64 — dressed in a burgundy bandhgala and dark trousers — stepped off Air India One at JFK airport on a sunny fall day with a nice nip in the air. He proceeded to the New York Palace hotel in Manhattan, briefly stepping out of his convoy to greet cheering Indians.
When he and Obama meet for the first time — they have only spoken on phone so far — on Monday over dinner at the White House and again for bilateral talks the next day, they will discuss an entire range of issues but also, importantly, try to build a personal rapport while sharing their visions for the two countries.
HT Explains: What Modi's maiden US visit means for India
Modi unveiled his vision earlier in the day, writing in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, “The United States is our natural global partner. India and the US embody the enduring and universal relevance of their shared values.”
A major element of the Modi-Obama interaction will be their personal equation, said a senior administration official. Another said the two would bring their respective visions to the discussions in order to “propel the relationship forward and kick it to the next level”.
Modi — who was denied a visa by the US in 2005 for his alleged role in the 2002 Gujarat riots — has a packed schedule. Saturday, though, is relatively light with the UN address, a visit to the 9/11 memorial and meetings with UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon and at least two heads of state, Mahinda Rajapaksa and Sheikh Hasina. Sunday will be dedicated mostly to meetings with the Indian American community, including the event at the iconic Madison Square Garden, and global CEOs.
The Washington leg of his trip starts on Monday. His discussions with Obama will cover a gamut of issues, from trade, defence and security issues to India’s economic growth, climate change and current international challenges such as ISIS.
Every detail matters. The Indians have assured American officials that the PM’s fasting and restrictive Navratri diet should not change anything. And US officials have said there was never a time when the White House was not able to “accommodate the interests and needs of any leader visiting” the President.
India and the US have tried to give different labels to a relationship that holds tremendous promise but has managed to evade a definition that stays.
Former prime minister AB Vajpayee called India and the US “natural allies” during his visit in 1999. Almost a decade later, Obama called it the “defining relationship of the 21st century” during a trip to India in 2010, and that came to dominate the narrative, at least on the American side.
Now, Modi has his own take on it: India and the US are “natural global partners” with “a fundamental stake in each other’s success”.
“That is also the imperative of our partnership,” he wrote, arguing that the relationship “will be of great value in advancing peace, security and stability in the Asia and Pacific regions; in the unfinished and urgent task of combating terrorism and extremism; and in securing our seas, cyber space and outer space, all of which now have a profound influence on our daily lives”.
“This is a moment of flux in the global order.... With sensitivity to each other’s point of view and the confidence of our friendship, we can contribute to more concerted international efforts to meet the pressing global challenges of our times,” he added.