Largest and Most Powerful Democracies Meet


Indian Prime Minister Modi visited Washington DC earlier this week, and I happened to be in that city as well, and could witness the impact of his visit at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel, wherein he was supposed to address American CEOs over breakfast on Sunday 25th June. I am publishing this blog post after his visit has been completed since I was on the road, but my thoughts obviously emanate from those couple of days 25th – 26th June.

I was meeting one of my mentors at the Willard, and the security checks at the hotel surprised me. They had the Secret Service and dogs to sniff at the patrons (similar to major Indian five star hotels). Usually, there is no security check when you enter any large hotel complex in the U.S. Apart from that check, I also noticed the big black suburban SUVs outside the hotel, and also a number of folks from India around the hotel.

This visit of PM Modi was unlike the one in 2014 when the White House and President Obama were rooting for him all the way, with his huge outreach to the Indian diaspora, etc., It was a more low key affair this time, and my guess is that nobody was sure how the meeting with President Trump will go – no one could guess it the way it turned out to be in the end. I have seen nobody hugging President Trump, and here the Indian PM hugged him not once, not twice, but thrice – counting the third one from the dinner event on Monday. And, from the expression on President Trump’s countenance, it was apparent he was enjoying the hug!

India was obviously a bit perplexed with President Trump, in contrast to the warmth it enjoyed over President Obama’s second term, when India was designated as “Major Defence Partner” of the U.S., the only one country which was a non-NATO ally. With President Trump, it was a mystery how things will go forward, given the fact that he complained about India reaping billions of dollars as a beneficiary of the Paris Climate deal.

The Indian officials must have heaved a sigh of relief after the world witnessed the personal chemistry of “hugging”, smiling and good mouthing that followed during PM Modi’s visit to the White House. Nothing major came out of the visit though. Critical differences on trade, immigration and climate deal were not probably highlighted given the fact that this was the first time the men were meeting. I would guess that given the right wing mentality and pro-business sentiment that pervades on both sides, it was not a surprise that things indeed turned out well for the future of the strategic ties between the world’s most powerful democracy and its largest one.

The one thing which did come out is a lashing of Pakistan’s terror ties, and it is no wonder that Pakistan immediately challenged both the U.S. and India on that count. The U.S. has been increasingly publicly assertive on Pakistan’s major problems centred on the origins of terrorism, especially on the Kashmir side. Just before the arrival of PM Modi, the U.S. State Department designated a Kashmir militant as a global terrorist, which was received rather well by India.

Overall, PM Modi’s visit was good for India, but the U.S. is likely to push for more open trade, and is unlikely to budge on climate issues. However a positive connection has been established, and it should go a long way in cementing strategic ties.

With India buying USD 2B worth of drones and USD 22B of Boeing planes (order from SpiceJet), the U.S. is seeing a strongly positive uptick on the business side, and that should please the White House.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

25th June 2017

 

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