“As we talk with candour, we open the doors to new possibilities and new areas of cooperation — in advancing democracy, in combating terrorism, in energy and environment, science and technology and in international peacekeeping. And, we are discovering that our shared values and common interests are leading us to seek a natural partnership of shared endeavours.”
—Prime Minister Vajpayee’s address to the joint session of the US Congress — September 14, 2000
Since the bold statement made by former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee announcing Bharat-US as ‘natural partners’, it has become a cliché to explain the bilateral relations. Though these words of Vajpayee clearly indicated the Bharat’s departure from the dwindling policy of ‘Non-Alignment’, the real contours of partnership could not be unravelled. The Jaswant Singh- Strobe Talbott diologue process certainly helped clearly much of the air but inhibitions remained. The Indo-US civil nuclear deal added positive energy to relationships but restricted by the domestic and international fissures. In this sense, Prime Minister Modi’s recent visit to the US is a defining moment which has broken the three barriers of ‘historical inhibitions’ in the bilateral engagement.
Firstly, this visit formally accepted Modi as a statesman of global stature. Not long ago a highly unusual coalition made up in the US of Bharat-born activists, evangelical Christians, Jewish leaders and Republican members of Congress concerned about religious freedom around the globe use to reservations about engaging with PM Modi. Despite of his fourth visit in the last two years and seventh summit level engagement with President Obama, these murmuring voices continued to play the nuisance value. This time with the joint session of the US Congress itself has broken those shackles by not only inviting Modi but giving him as many as 9 standing ovations. This is a resounding victory for Modi as a leader and nationalist school of thought he represents.
Secondly, the Bharat-US relations were always governed by the Cold-War mindset and primacy of Pakistan in the US foreign policy calculus. It is true that bilateral relationships are no linear but rooted in the complex web of global power calculus. Still, the reticence of historical baggage never allowed the two greatest democracies to realise the potential of bilateralism. A set of preparatory documents starting from Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Government of India and the Government of the United States of America to enhance cooperation on Energy, Security, Clean Energy and Climate Change to Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement between the Ministry of Defence, Government of India and the Department of Defense of the United States of America were prepared well before Modi starting this round of diplomatic mission. That is the reason; the biggest sign of Cold-War restrictions such as MTCR and NSG were let off by the US administration by formally recognising Bharat as a nuclear power. The US has realised the fact that Bharat will continue to retain autonomy in foreign policy matters and therefore, cannot be like her conventional allies. On the other hand, Bharat has also shown the willingness to accept the US not just a manipulator or dominator but an equal partner in bridging the mutual requirements of technological innovations and quality human resource.
Third most important corollary of this equal and dignified partnership is, both these countries are in a position to deal with the global concerns in a more pragmatic manner instead of getting into rhetoric of realism and idealism. The range of issues dealt by the India-US Joint Statement titled The United States and India: Enduring Global Partners in the 21st Century is of ample evidence of changing dynamics. Besides the agreed issues of democratic values and bilateral trade, the complex matters of environment, energy, terrorism, maritime security etc are addressed cautiously but with definite action plans.
The Modi-Obama chemistry has certainly facilitated in overcoming the hesitations and irrespective of outcome of impending Presidential elections this relationship is going to move forward. The key lies in the ability of US to come out of Euro-centricism and accept the historical reality that Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region is the theatre of the world.