Prime Minister’s straight talk in America
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United Nations and the United States apparently is the best any Indian Prime Minister has had, hallmarks being some plain talking and revival of the Indo-US strategic partnership. Critics have been hollering about lack of a strategic agenda though obviously all matters discussed between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Barack Obama would obviously not come to light.
The fact that the National Security Advisor (NSA) did not return with the Prime Minister and has stayed back in the US for necessary follow-up is indicative of this. Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s renewed effort to internationalise the Kashmir issue earned a sharp rebuke from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who told the UN General Assembly (UNGA) that it was a pointless exercise when there were so many more pressing issues facing the region and the world, plus telling Nawaz Sharif “Raising it [Kashmir issue] at UN won’t resolve bilateral issues.” At the same time he stated he was prepared to engage in a serious bilateral dialogue with Pakistan in a peaceful atmosphere, without the shadow of terrorism, to promote friendship and cooperation.
Modi’s address to UNGA covered a number of subjects such as terrorism, including its resurgence in West Asia, reforms of the United Nations, including the UNSC, and the need for a more inclusive global development. With respect to India’s neighbourhood, he emphasised that India desired a peaceful and stable environment for its development, saying “A nation’s destiny is linked to its neighbourhood. That is why my government has placed the highest priority on advancing friendship and cooperation with her neighbours.” Describing the present as “a time of great flux and change” he drew attention to the fact that the world was witnessing tensions and turmoil on a scale rarely seen in recent history and despite no major wars absence of real peace and uncertainty about the future. He welcomed efforts to combat terrorism’s resurgence in West Asia which was affecting countries near and far and exhorted UN should ensure peace, stability and order in the outer space and cyber space, ensuring all countries observe international rules and norms.
He talked of concerns about maritime safety in Asia-Pacific, threat of Europe facing new division, terrorism and health crisis in West and South Asia and Africa, and proposed an International Yoga Day. With respect to reforms of the UNSC, making a strong pitch for India to be part of UNSC, Modi said, “Institutions that reflect the imperatives of
the 20th century won’t be effective in the 21st. It would face the risk of irrelevance and we will face the risk of continuing turbulence with no one capable of addressing it.” Significantly, he also stated that there can’t be any ‘good’ or ‘bad’ terrorists; indirect reference to the US policy.
Prior to Modi’s departure for the US, scholars at home and abroad were busy penning down what should be his agenda, recommending: fast changing dynamic of Asia and Indo-Pacific having turned India into a ‘swing state’ in the global power game with both Chinese President Xi Jimping and Obama wooing Modi, India should derive maximum mileage from the situation since to dominate the Asian stage both China and US need Indian support; important that both India and US have an honest conversation about the kind of relationship they seek; explore possibility of US partnering development of India’s next-generation aircraft carrier, sell India unconventional oil and gas, permit US companies to use Indian space launch services, accelerate US efforts to integrate India into the multilateral non-proliferation regimes, deepen meaningful cyber-defence cooperation with India, follow-up on projects subsumed by the India-US Defence Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI), overcoming impasse over the nuclear liability law and salvaging the Doha round of global trade talks or advancing the common quest for mitigating climate change etc; rejuvenate the concept of Indo-US partnership setting aims of both sides in a national as well as international context and how to what degree they can cooperate.
While Modi made a commanding bond with Indian-Americans and announced immediate concessions for them, his op-ed in the Washington Post highlighted: high tide of hope for change in India— a young nation with 800 million people under age 35, India is brimming with optimism and confidence; unleashing those attributes will be pursued by eliminating unnecessary laws and regulations, making bureaucratic processes easier and shorter, and ensuring transparency, responsiveness and accountability of government; create world-class infrastructure that India badly needs to accelerate growth and meet people’s basic needs; make cities and towns habitable, sustainable and smart; make villages engines of economic transformation; “Make in India” is our commitment—and an invitation to all—to turn India into a new global manufacturing hub; inclusive development includes skills education, opportunity, safety, dignity and rights for all especially women, bank account for every Indian, affordable health care within everyone’s reach, sanitation for all by 2019, house for all by 2022; electricity for every household and connectivity to every village; fusion of technology and innovation to transform governance, empower people, provide affordable solutions for societal challenges and reach people in unimaginable ways; India will pursue its dreams in partnership with our international friends; US is our natural global partner. India and the US embody the enduring and universal relevance of their shared values, and India and the US have a fundamental stake in each other’s success for the sake of our values and our many shared interests.
Then was the joint Modi-Obama op-ed in Washington Post a prelude to official discussion between Modi and Obama, something never done earlier, highlights of which are: commitment to democracy, liberty, diversity, enterprise; bound by common values and mutual interests, natural and unique partnership can help shape international security and peace for years to come; ties rooted in the shared desire for justice and equality—Swami Vivekananda presented Hinduism as a world religion at the 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago, Martin Luther King Jr. sought to end discrimi-
The major irritant in Indo-US relationship has always been America’s intransigence to Pakistan’s generation of terrorism against India or at best cosmetic actions
nation and prejudice against African Americans inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent teachings while Gandhi drew upon the writings of Henry David Thoreau; food production increases of the Green Revolution and the Indian Institutes of Technology are among many products of collaboration; bilateral collaboration spans federal, state, local levels, military, private sectors and civil society; space programmes engage in unprecedented areas of cooperation, leading us from Earth to Mars; true potential of our relationship has yet to be fully realised—time to set a new agenda that realizes concrete benefits for citizens.
The Vision Statement for the US-India Strategic Partnership “Chalein Saath Saath: Forward We Go” was the crowning feat of Modi’s visit, major points of which are: currents of kinship and commerce, scholarship and science tie our countries together allowing to rise above differences by maintaining long-term perspective; cooperation fortifies a relationship that matches innumerable ties between peoples producing works of art and music, cutting-edge technology and response to crisis; partnership joint endeavour for prosperity and peace; together, we will combat terrorist threats, respond expeditiously to humanitarian disasters and crises, prevent spread of WMDs and remain committed to reduce salience of nuclear weapons while promoting universal, verifiable, and non-discriminatory nuclear disarmament; support open and inclusive rules-based global order, in which India assumes greater multilateral responsibility, including in a reformed UNSC; join together to mitigate impact of climate change; partner to ensure both countries have affordable, clean, reliable, and diverse sources of energy, including efforts to bring American-origin nuclear power technologies to India; ensure economic growth in both countries to better livelihoods and welfare for all including value education and skills; joint research and collaboration in every aspect-ranging from particles of creation to outer space, producing boundless innovation and high technology collaboration; open markets, fair and transparent practices in trade in goods and services; collaboration in tackling infectious diseases, eliminate maternal and child deaths, eradicate poverty and empowerment of women in a secure environment; expand and deepen strategic partnership in order to harness the inherent potential of two democracies and burgeoning ties between our people, economies, and businesses, seeking reliable and enduring friendship that bolsters security and stability, contributing to global economy, and advancing peace and prosperity throughout the world, and; that this transformative relationship as trusted partners in the 21st century will be a model for the rest of the world.
On balance, it may be surmised that Prime Minister Modi’s speech at UNGA conveyed the message from India holistically in forthright manner. The Modi-Obama and other meetings in the US have been fruitful and touched the cords at personal levels as well. The Indo-US strategic partnership has been re-energised but that for the time being is only at the ‘theoretical’ level. It is the follow-up what matters. The major irritant in Indo-US relationship has always been America’s intransigence to Pakistan’s generation of terrorism against India or at best cosmetic actions. In addition has been the massive arming of Pakistan including F-16s on pretext of CT. Is that going to change? US also has past record of giving India dated defence technologies besides putting sanctions on various pretexts. In the latter context, it would be prudent for India to remain well diversified in matters of defence imports. Ultimately only time will tell in what manner the ‘re-energised’ Indo-US Strategic Partnership will play out.
President Barack Obama welcomes Prime Minister Narendra Modi