The message from Modi’s visit
Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi has just concluded a successful visit to the United States (US) — which had a bilateral element (he met President Joe Biden and vice-president Kamala Harris), a plurilateral element (he attended the first in-person summit of Quad leaders) and a multilateral element (he addressed the United Nations General Assembly in New York). Besides this, India’s diplomatic machine was in top gear, with external affairs minister S Jaishankar meeting dozens of his counterparts from states big and small, near and far, to ensure India’s outreach went beyond the great and emerging powers. There are three broad takeaways from the visit.
One, the India-US strategic relationship remains robust. The common threat of China has bound the two countries in more ways than one, from the world of intelligence-sharing and security cooperation to developing new forms of technology collaboration and supply-chain diversification and resilience. There will continue to be differences, primarily because India is an exception insofar as it is not, and will not become, a US ally — but it is now more than a friend. Partner is the chosen diplomatic term, which allows both countries room, but probably hides more than it reveals about the depths of cooperation. Two, Quad is here to stay. From a virtual to an in-person summit in six months, and from being cagey about pointing to the underlying threat that brought them together to specifically making a reference to how the group will remain undaunted by coercion, Quad has unveiled an ambitious agenda. The extent of how far the grouping will move in the military domain is unclear — but a constructive agenda on vaccines, climate, tech and supply-chains is a productive outcome.
Three, democracy brings India and the US together but is also a somewhat contested space. PM Modi claimed at UN that India is the “mother of democracy” and illustrated the democratic possibilities in India with the story of his own rise. India is right to own democracy and must internalise that this is a strategic asset. While the US recognises that India is indeed a vibrant electoral democracy, sections in the US — particularly the Left of the Democratic Party, sections of the Congress and the liberal media — have raised questions about the quality of democracy. This will remain a talking point, but will not erode the strategic character of the partnership for there are enough countervailing constituencies in the US that recognise India’s value. Both Delhi and DC know there is a much bigger challenge, and clarity on the C word will prevail over debates on the D word.