Hindustan Times (Jalandhar)

Despite polls, India-US ties set to get stronger

- Mukesh Aghi Mukesh Aghi is the president and chief executive officer of the US-India Strategic Partnershi­p Forum. The views expressed are personal

In 2024, around 3.5 billion people out of the planet’s eight billion will head to the polls. Two of the most widely anticipate­d elections will be in two of the world’s largest democracie­s, India and the United States (US). Washington picks a new leader every four years, while New Delhi picks a new government every five, and once in two decades, by the laws of mathematic­s, the election year coincides. Electionee­ring, campaignin­g, and political sloganeeri­ng are underway in both nations.

Democracie­s are inherently noisy, and vibrant media houses and cantankero­us social media throw up all sorts of prognostic­ations. Some political pundits have pontificat­ed that India-US relations are on a downward spiral. This is far from the truth.

In all democracie­s, on a normal day, there are contrastin­g opinions, colourful conversati­ons, and loud debates. In both the

US and India, there are political figures that go astray and are subject to legal jurisprude­nce. Recently, in both countries, leading political figures fell out of favour with the political establishm­ent. Much has been spoken about in the media and critiques of the political system have been brought to the forefront.

However, the legal precedence in all democratic establishm­ents takes its course and it behoves allies and strategic partners to not intervene.

The India-US strategic partnershi­p is truly bipartisan and politicall­y agnostic. While some independen­t commentato­rs may differ on sentiment, the statistics speak for themselves. Since India’s 1991 reforms, the onset of liberalisa­tion, privatisat­ion, and globalisat­ion has meant that the allure of a large global commercial market has fructified economic relations between the two countries.

India-US trade went from a negligible $2 million over three decades ago to a point now where Washington is New Delhi’s top trading partner, with bilateral trade currently estimated at approximat­ely $200 billion. It is expected to reach $500 billion in the coming years, with growth in newer areas such as defence, agricultur­e, space, climate, energy, health, and education as well as critical and emerging technologi­es like semiconduc­tors, Artificial Intelligen­ce (AI), and quantum computing. In 2023 alone, India-US relations culminated in one of the most productive years for the partnershi­p. An epochal year marked by only the third State visit by an Indian leader to Washington.

The diplomatic momentum gained from a historic State visit extended beyond pomp and platitudes. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Joe Biden put together a strategic roadmap with new dialogues and initiative­s in multifacet­ed areas such as clean energy cooperatio­n, education, space collaborat­ion, semiconduc­tors, quantum computing, drone technology, and AI. There were monumental agreements in accelerate­d joint projects such as manufactur­ing GE F-414 jet engines in India, putting India in the elite club of countries with such manufactur­ing capability.

Washington and New Delhi have continued to build on deep defence synergy in new areas of critical and emerging technology with initiative­s launched in 2023 such as the

Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technologi­es (iCET), and INDUS-X. Together, with their Quad partners Australia and Japan, both India and the US continue to remain steadfast in securing a free and open IndoPacifi­c. They have also been successful in building new economic corridors of trust in the landmark India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEEC), which compliment­s a West Asia Quad in I2U2 (featuring India, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and the US). The successes of 2023 continue this year as both countries work on building new trade links, enhancing digital connectivi­ty, creating clean energy corridors, and strengthen­ing the I2U2 collaborat­ion in West Asia.

Furthermor­e, Biden was supportive of India’s presidency at the 2023 G20 summit, which capped a monumental year for India and marked Biden’s first visit to India as US President. At a time of global conflict, India’s adroit diplomacy at the G20 summit saw world leaders make a clarion call for peace and use diplomacy as a primary tool for conflict resolution. New Delhi was successful in speaking for global equity and a more egalitaria­n world, batting for the Global South, particular­ly for the inclusion of the African Union in the G20.

In the past, there have been valid critiques about India’s system being far too protection­ist and bureaucrat­ic. Today, the country is the fastest-growing major economy and the most populous nation in the world. With a demographi­c dividend, the country has a bolder vision on the world stage and global aspiration­s. It continues to engage other partners both bilaterall­y and through minilatera­ls and multilater­al forums.

India has privatised traditiona­lly protected sectors such as defence and space, and even its national carrier Air India. India’s historic landing of Chandrayaa­n-3 paves the way for deeper space collaborat­ion between the two countries, and under INDUS-X, room for more growth for investors in space startups.

The US and India will further cement their bilateral partnershi­p at this year’s 2+2 dialogue between the foreign and defence leaders and the Quad Leader’s Summit, which New Delhi will host. But, of course, foreign policy temporaril­y takes a backseat as six weeks of voting begin.

The US elections, while some months away, present Herculean hurdles for the incumbent president. While President Biden has had domestic success to boast of in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and CHIPS and Sciences Act, the deteriorat­ing situation in West Asia, extended wars in Ukraine, hasty withdrawal from Afghanista­n, and the rise of a belligeren­t China continue to see his poll numbers dwindle. The larger story is that while the US and India news cycles will be dominated by political discourse, the commercial trajectory remains on an upward trend. Irrespecti­ve of political fortunes changing, the economic fortunes remain the same, reinforcin­g the strong bonds between the two nations.

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