India-US ties are at all-time high: Jaishankar

By, Washington
Oct 02, 2023 04:28 AM IST

Jaishankar also said he wanted to thank the US in public in Washington DC for its support for G20.

Declaring that the India-US relationship is at an “all-time high” but the world “ain’t seen anything yet”, external affairs minister S Jaishankar has said the high “trust quotient” in the bilateral relationship made it unique; ties will go, “like the Chandrayaan”, to the moon and even beyond; and that the two countries now saw each other as very “optimal, desirable and comfortable” partners.

S Jaishankar (PTI)
S Jaishankar (PTI)

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Jaishankar also said that that while the success of the G20 was due to Indian presidency and all the members of the group, he wanted to thank the US in public in Washington DC for its support, understanding and contribution and said the success of G20 was also a reflection of the India-US partnership. HT had first reported, the day after the New Delhi Leaders’ Declaration was announced, that American flexibility on the language around Ukraine had played a key role in arriving at a consensus during the summit and given India room to convince the other members.

Also Read: Jaishankar praises ISRO scientists behind Chandrayaan-3 mission in Washington, says ‘simply amazing’

Speaking at a community event, hosted by India’s ambassador to the US Taranjit Singh Sandhu at India House in the US capital on Saturday, Jaishankar also hailed the role, responsibility and contribution of the Indian diaspora in America as the big change in underpinning ties, creating a unique human bond, and setting the stage for more “fantastic” possibilities.

Top Indian-American officials in the administration, members of the US Congress, Indian-American state legislators, business and community leaders joined close to 1500 people from the diaspora at the event, which was themed “colors of friendship” and celebrated Indian diversity, recognised India’s religious pluralism and cultural heterogeneity, and paid homage to Mahatma Gandhi in the run-up to his birth anniversary.

All-time high

Taking political ownership of the relationship with the US — a theme that has run through his visit at a time when there has been speculation about the impact of Canada’s allegations against India on India-US ties — Jaishankar began by saying that it had been an “extraordinary year” for both India and India-US ties, the latter reflected in the “warmth of the welcome, substance of cooperation and breadth of engagements” during PM Narendra Modi’s state visit to Washington this summer.

“There is one clear message today. Our relationship is at an all-time high. But as they say in America, you ain’t seen anything yet. We are going to take this relationship to a different level,” Jaishankar said.

The minister said that when they went back to India after Modi’s visit, he was often asked how would he compare it to past visits. And as someone who had been a part of many key prime ministerial visits to the US since 1985, Jaishankar said he could claim, with objectivity and balance despite being in politics, that the visit was different. “What has changed is that India and the US used to deal with each other. Today, they work with each other.”

Role of the diaspora

Pivoting to the diaspora, Jaishankar offered a data point. When Jawaharlal Nehru came to the US in 1949, there were 3000 Indian-Americans; when Indira Gandhi came in 1966, there were 30,000 people in the diaspora; when Rajiv Gandhi came in 1985, there were 300,000 Indian-Americans; and when Modi first came (in 2014), there were three million Indian-Americans, now going up to five million.

He told the community present on the lawns of India House, “You guys are the change.

If there is something unique about the relationship, it is this human bond”, adding this is what made the relationship go beyond the usual political, business, military, cultural ties. “When two countries have this deep human bonding, it is completely different. That is the defining characteristic of the relationship. The role, responsibility and contribution of the community to the relationship is fantastic, no words can capture it. On that foundation, we are looking ahead at fantastic possibilities.”

Listening to the speech in the lawns was MR Rangaswami, the founder-chairman of Indiaspora, among the most influential Indian diaspora organisations. He told HT that the minister had the “hit the mark”, adding that besides the numbers Jaishankar outlined, it was also the success of the diaspora that helped — they were the highest-earning income group, 50 top global CEOs were Indian-Americans, the Joe Biden administration had 150 Indian-Americans, the diaspora remitted $100 billion to India. “That is the key to the relationship. All of it, taken together, has helped.”

A new India, a new relationship

The EAM then shifted to describing the changes in India. “When I speak today, to the world, to people in US, to people of other countries, many foreign ministers, I want to share this is truly a different india for which I speak.”

This India, he said, was capable of the Chandrayaan 3 mission and offered a description of how it was to watch the final moments of the landing with Modi in South Africa and travelling with him to ISRO in Bengaluru to see the scientists. This India, he said, was capable of pulling off the “most spectacular” G20 and proving those wrong who had doubted that India would be able to bring 20 countries with different positions to come to the table. This India, he added, was capable of showing, during Covid-19, that it was not just capable of taking care of its own citizens but offering help to over 100 countries; of being the fastest to roll-out 5G network. “If there is a spring in our step, a confidence in our voice, a sort of squaring of our shoulders, there are very good reasons for it. It is built on ten years of hard work.”

It is this India that the US is also now partnering, Jaishankar said, adding it was hard for him now to put a limit on ties, define it, or even voice expectations, for India-US had ties had exceeded expectations in every way in even the last three to five years. The two countries were raising the bar, finding new domains to work together, and the more they worked together, the more Delhi and DC were able to explore and achieve together.

In the backdrop of a changing world, Jaishankar said, “I would say India and US have moved to a position where we really see each other as very desirable, optimal partners, comfortable partners, with whom it is a natural instinct to pick up the phone, or if if you meet somewhere, to have a conversation, to share your anxieties, to explore your solutions. The comfort and chemistry of the relationship, this today gives me enormous hope of where the prospects are.”

Trusted partners

Offering a concrete aspect of this, Jaishankar spoke about technology, which had penetrated so deep in every aspect of everyday lives. “Because tech has penetrated so deep, it is not just a question of business. It is a question of security. It is a question of privacy. What we have put out about ourselves is more than we know,” he said, adding that this meant it was not just a question of which partner gave you the best terms.

“It is very much today who are your trusted partners. In my business, foreign policy, if there is one big change, it is the frequency of the word trust. People look at other countries, leaders, situations and ask themselves can I trust this country, leadership, country. Beyond comfort and chemistry, to me, it is the trust quotient of this relationship which has made if very unique,” Jaishankar said.

The minister also spoke of how various initiatives that India and the US were now engaged in together started with the alphabet I, pointing to the India Middle East Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC), I2U2 (the grouping that includes India, Israel, UAE and US), the initiative on critical and emerging technologies (iCET), or even the Indo-Pacific.

“The alphabet I is good for the US. Somewhere people have figured this one out. Go for the alphabet I. Then pick a word. Hopefully there is a country there, there are good people there, and those are the guys you need to work with,” Jaishankar said, as the audience applauded and laughed.

Returning to his early days of handling the relationship back in the early 1980s, Jaishankar recalled those were tough times, it was hard to get access to the US Congress, there were no Indian-American members in the Congress, and it was remarkable how far the relationship had come, where, now, every Indian and American government department dealt with each other and there was depth and breadth to the ties.

Offering an anecdote about the levels of popular interest in the relationship, Jaishankar recalled how at an evening in the Gujarat bhavan in New Delhi, where Modi and parliamentarians from Gujarat were present, a folk singer from Kutch sang a song which referred to Modi’s visit to the US. “Today, if a visit to US, a Biden-Modi meeting, has entered the boondocks of India, that if balladeers are making songs about it, it tells you both how connected we are to the world and how much in people’s minds this relationship matters.”

G20, values and the American role

Jaishankar claimed that Gandhi’s message, which was simple in its essence for it was about “doing the right thing, the decent thing, and leaving no one behind”, underpinned India’s G20’s presidency, India’s and America’s own domestic approach, and what India and the US were attempting to do together.

He recalled that India had first convened the voice of global south summit and got 125 countries which would not be at the table to articulate their problems, which India would then brought to the G20 table.

“The G20 is successful not because we found the right formulations on a matter as complicated as Ukraine. But it was because we were able to shine the spotlight that resources for education, development, health, infrastructure, are falling behind.

We speak about saving the planet but we are not being able to resource it. We speak about technology but do we have a vision for a digital public infrastructure which is so central for a corruption-free good governance world. It is because we were able to get G20 on the right issue, that is what India’s leadership and contribution is.”

He then said he wanted to recognise one thing. “Obviously as the host, when things go well, host gets the credit. G20 could not have come together if all members did not work for its success. I think, particularly, I must say, if I am in this country today, the contribution and support and understanding we got from US to make a successful G20, that is something I want to certainly recognise in public in Washington. It may have been our success in a literal way, it was G20’s success, it was also a success of the India-US partnership.”

Jaishankar wrapped up his remarks by urging the diaspora to continue the partnership it needed, deserved and expected. “I can promise you that this relationship like the Chandrayaan will go the moon, even maybe beyond.”

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    Prashant Jha is the Washington DC-based US correspondent of Hindustan Times. He is also the editor of HT Premium. Jha has earlier served as editor-views and national political editor/bureau chief of the paper. He is the author of How the BJP Wins: Inside India's Greatest Election Machine and Battles of the New Republic: A Contemporary History of Nepal.

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