India’s invitation to President Barack Obama is a measure of the significance India puts on its strategic partnership with the US. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has very publicly signalled a reshaping of India’s foreign policy and, in particular, policy towards the US. It also is a defining moment in bilateral relations as this is the first time that a President of the United Sates will be the chief guest at India’s Republic Day celebrations—convergence of the world’s largest democracy and the world’s oldest democracy.
On the US side, Obama’s acceptance points to the fact that the US considers India an important partner. It also signals a restoration of US confidence in India which, in the years since the path-breaking Civil Nuclear Agreement was signed, had been declining on account of various factors. It also tells us that Modi’s visit to Washington in September gave a significant boost to bilateral relations.
However, moving beyond the symbolism of the invitation and the visit, both India and the US will need to work closely to strengthen and expand the US-India strategic partnership. India and the US have much in common: deep-rooted respect for democratic values; multi-cultural societies; and free markets. Today, there is an extraordinary degree of convergence between the interests of the two countries such as geopolitics, regional security and defence.
It goes without saying that US-India bilateral relations will improve if the business relations improve. Towards this, we hope that the often-cited impediments such as India’s Nuclear Liability Act and challenges in the IPR regime are addressed. Since 1991, when India ushered in wide-scale economic reforms, much has been accomplished. However, there is work ahead for India’s policy-makers to provide an enabling environment for trade and industry to flourish. Clearly, the present government has already taken great strides in that direction.The US-India Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) has the potential to transform bilateral relations and needs nurturing. Co-production implies a paradigm shift for both countries, and officials on both sides need to work together and ensure that the DTTI becomes the catalyst of enhanced cooperation between the two countries. The DTTI represents a commitment from the US side to building an indigenous Indian industrial base by pre-screening projects for co-production. This will lead to industrial integration and interdependence which will strengthen the foundation for an enduring US-India security relationship.
The implementation of the DTTI is as much a test of the Modi government directing its bureaucratic processes as it is the US commitment to ensuring the two countries will set up an enduring partnership.
There is a need to galvanise the DTTI and both the governments need to make sure that officials and corporates working at the ground level take forward the vision articulated by the respective leaderships. It is hoped that Obama’s visit to India will result in the two leaders strongly endorsing a very specific time-line and actions to implement DTTI projects which will send a strong message to bureaucracies and corporate boardrooms in each country that the DTTI remains a top priority.
The author is chief executive, US and International Commercial Strategic Development, General Atomics Electromagnetics