Obama and Modi strengthen ties between U.S. and India

By Julian del Prado

NEW DELHI, Jan. 26, 2015  U.S. President Barack Obama, left, first lady Michelle Obamaand Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gesture upon arrival at the Palam Air Force Station on Jan. 25, 2015 in New Delhi, India. U.S. President Barack Obama on Sunday arrived in India for a three-day visit of the country. (Xinhua/Zuma Press/TNS)
(Xinhua/Zuma Press/TNS)

President Barack Obama’s recent visit to India proved lucrative for both the United States and India. Bilateral trade between the two countries will increase five-fold, and a long-awaited nuclear deal will allow U.S. based companies to supply India with civilian nuclear technology. Furthermore, the trip was symbolic success. Obama’s appearance next to India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, at the Delhi Republic Day celebration sent a clear message of unity to go with concrete diplomatic actions.

The U.S. agreed to sell further military hardware to India, while a military parade showed off India’s current strength. Modi in particular has stressed the alignment of India with the U.S., and his diplomatic actions as Prime Minister coincides with his rhetoric.

Modi appears to be one of few world leaders whose relationship with Barack Obama has a personal element. Breaking protocol, Modi met Obama at the airport personally when he arrived, setting the tone for Obama’s visit. These types of actions from both leaders convey a message of unity and trust.

Modi said that he and Obama “have forged a friendship,” and that “there is openness when we talk.” Obama hasn’t been shy about his relationship with Modi, either. He said at a joint press conference that India and the U.S. “had declared a new friendship to elevate our partnership.” Particularly important in the context of global affairs, Modi is moving India away from its history of nonalignment in favor of an alliance with the U.S.

Agreements reached during Obama’s trip to India are part of a larger diplomatic pattern being implemented by Modi. This diplomacy, known as “Act East,” is mainly focused on checking China’s increasing regional power. As part of “Act East,” Modi has strengthened relations with Japan and Vietnam, who have territorial disputes with China. With the force of the Indian military behind them (which in turn involves the U.S., depending on the strength of U.S.-Indian relations), these nations decrease the risk of being steamrolled by the increasingly robust Chinese military in the future.

India has also had either a stroke of good luck or a very successful covert operation in Sri Lanka, where pro-China president Mahinda Rajapaksa was removed in an election. According to Reuters, “diplomats and politicians in the region say India played a role in organizing the opposition against pro-China Rajapaksa.” Regardless of the truth of these allegations, Modi saw serious gains as a result of new leadership in Sri Lanka.

The new President of Sri Lanka, Maithripala Sirisena, has promised to make India a focal point of his foreign policy. Additionally, he will be reviewing all projects given to Chinese firms. In particular, a sea reclamation development in Colombo would be of strategic value to Beijing. At the very least, India has a chance at building more trust with the Sri Lankan government, which twice lied about the docking of a Chinese submarine in Colombo under Rajapaksa.

In the context of these gains and diplomatic moves, Obama’s visit to India is the beginning of a new alliance framework as world leaders look to the Pacific. In order to counter China as a rising military power while still fostering global economic growth, the governments of the U.S. and India need more than an economic and military relationship. Modi has proven popular in the U.S. when he has given talks there, and Obama has been portrayed favorably in India for the most part as well. The relationship between the two countries, at every turn, is portrayed with emotion by media sources.

I happen to think that the relationship between the two largest democracies on Earth should be somewhat emotional. With the challenges that “Act East” and the United States’ Pacific pivot will bring for global stability, a united populace is just as important as a united government. Because of this, I am happy for the media circus surrounding their interactions. Furthermore, an international community in which the U.S. and India have a more prominent (i.e. powerful) role in the creation of international law is more appealing to me than law created by competition between the U.S. and China. The history of the Cold War indicates that a bipolar world is rather unstable, or at least has the potential to be.

However, because it is far too early to tell the future of U.S.-Indian relations, I can only say that we are off to a strong start for now.

Julian del Prado is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]