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Mr. Modi Comes to Washington…With Diplomacy, Shopping Bag & Yoga

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Mr. Modi Comes to Washington…With Diplomacy, Shopping Bag & Yoga

From Nirmalya Chatterjee, Las Vegas, NV

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has come a long way in the nine years since becoming the Prime Minister. He has brought India a long way along with him. There was a time he was denied visa to come to the US. He is now visiting the US as one of its closest allies as President Biden rolls out the red carpet for him. Mr. Modi said just before departing for the US trip – “There is an unprecedented trust” between the US and India. He proclaimed that “India deserves a much higher, deeper and wider profile and a role” in the world scene. As events unfold during this trip, there seems to be much truth in Mr. Modi’s statements. How did it all happen? The current geopolitics has undoubtedly helped India. But Mr. Modi’s leadership with a clear display of vision, confidence and boldness deserves much of the credit too.

In the diplomatic front, Modi-Jaishankar leadership has been very ably navigating through the turbulent waters of the three superpowers – the US, Russia & China. India has abstained from condemning Russia in the UN for invading Ukraine and has steadfastly refused to participate in the sanctions against Russia. India does not want to antagonize Russia because more than half of India’s defense material come from Russia. Moreover, Russian oil supply has immensely helped the Indian economy and tamed the inflationary pressures there. The US was not happy about India’s position and has failed to make India to change its position in spite of much pressure. After a year, the US has now come around and accepted India’s stance. It wants to move forward and forge a strong relationship with India in defense and economic fronts. The big reason is China.

The US, along with many other countries, are very concerned and suspicious about China. China has been taking aggressive postures in the South China Sea, along the two-thousand-mile-long Himalayan border and in Cuba which is within 90 miles of the US shore. India and the US are very aligned in their views on China. India is now an important part of the growing military alliance in the Pacific with Japan and Australia under US sponsorship. They have been conducting frequent military exercises there. India has given the US Navy significant rights for the use of Indian port facilities. The US is selling India state-of-the-art drones and has agreed to jointly manufacture GE’s fighter jet engines in India that go into the F18 jet fighters. The US is hoping that it can move India away from its dependence on Russian military hard wares. Such a transfer of military technology would have been unthinkable a few years ago. Many of US and Indian experts believe that this is an indication of heightened trust between the two countries and is a major turning point in their relationship.

Economic factors are the other major concerns the US has about China. China is the largest trading partner of the US. With the tension in the US-China relationship, the US government and the large US companies, especially the tech companies, are very concerned about having so many eggs in the Chinese basket. The US is also very suspicious of the Chinese tech giants like Huawei, Tiktok for national security reasons. There are significant efforts currently underway to shift businesses away from China. That’s where India comes in. India has a large well educated population. It has a democratic form of government. And, India is becoming an easier place to do business. India’s growth rate is now surpassing China’s. Mr. Modi has set an aspirational goal of 8% annual growth target which would have been unimaginable in the past. Economists and business leaders in the US firmly believe what is good for India’s economy is good for the US economy also because of investment opportunities, technology transfers, the vast export market, etc. Apple is already building manufacturing operations in southern India. Elon Musk had a meeting with Mr. Modi in New York this week and announced he wants to build electric cars and batteries in India soon. Mr. Modi is meeting with many of the leaders of the largest tech companies in Washington to present opportunities of making investments in India.

The warmth and camaraderie with which Mr. and Mrs. Biden are treating Mr. Modi is remarkable. Mr. Modi is receiving the highest level of reception from President Biden that is normally reserved for the closest of allies. There will be an official state dinner for him at the White House. Only the heads of France and South Korea have received it so far by this administration. Mr. Modi will be addressing the joint session of the Congress. He will also be joining Mr. Biden at an joint press conference which Mr. Modi generally does not like to do but has been persuaded by the Biden administration.

Not all of Mr. Modi’s Washington trip is totally flawless. Some seventy-five Senators and Representatives have petitioned President Biden about their concerns on India’s backsliding on democratic principles. Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal are some of the signers of the petition. Their concerns are centered around the treatment of minorities as well as the political dissidents in India. The Indian position has been that this is a matter of internal affair of India. Nevertheless, it has presented some challenges of walking a tight-rope for Biden administration as it has been typically very vocal on human rights and democratic principles elsewhere in the world.

Mr. Modi, while paying close attention to the serious business of foreign policy, defense, and economy, also took the time to celebrate Yoga, a true symbol of ‘Made in India’. A record number of 1800 participants of 135 nationalities participated to commemorate the International Day of Yoga on June 21 at the United Nations in New York as he led the event. Mr. Modi, who persuaded the UN to proclaim the International Day of Yoga back in 2014, declared “Yoga is unifying. It is for everyone, for all ethnicities, for all faiths and for all cultures. Yoga is truly universal”. Certainly, a powerful message as India tries to take a more center stage.

(This submission has not been edited)

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