Did Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s summit meeting with US President Barack Obama in September signal a paradigm shift in bilateral ties? Was it a ground-breaking moment in Indo-US ties that had seen a slump over the years? Experts, including former diplomats, do not think it was a paradigm shift, but agree the visit was trend-setting and helped reignite US business interest in India.
Senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, however, said he did not see any tangible result from Modi’s US visit, rather it was a “damp squib” and there was “very little beyond the blather” to contribute to bilateral ties.
Former foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh, addressing a panel discussion on ‘Modi-Obama Summit: A paradigm shift in India-US Relation’ at the University of Chicago Center here Monday evening, said that Modi’s visit was trend-setting and helped repair the damage to bilateral relations of the past four years.
“The visit brought back the fizz to bilateral relations, and the mood to US business about India,” said Mansingh at the seminar partnered by the Indo-American Friendship Association. He added that around $40 billion worth of transactions were inked following the Modi visit.
According to Mansingh, the “ground-breaking moment” in bilateral ties was the inking of the civil nuclear deal between then prime minister Manmohan Singh and George Bush in June 2005.
Tharoor, who is chair of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs, said he did not think that the intensive engagement between the Obama and Modi governments in the last six months has resulted in “much substance, unprecedented or paradigm shift” in bilateral ties.
According to him, the US is not impressed by the “big soundbytes” of Modi and “What they are looking for is action not words, results not hype. And that’s what we are looking forward to in India too, and we havn’t seen enough of that.”
“When that happens, there will be substantive change” in ties, Tharoor said.
According to veteran journalist and Rajya Sabha member H.K. Dua, while the Modi invite to Obama to attend the Republic Day Parade next year is a major achievement, the US president would be expecting some returns from India.
“Obama would expect, would like India to be generous in climate change, investments in the defence arena,” Dua said, and added that the US has been “holding back” in giving sensitive technology to India.
According to economist Rajiv Kumar of the Centre for Policy Research, India-US relations will improve if the business relations improve. He added that India needs to make the nuclear liability law more accomodative.
Michael Pelletier, US deputy chief of mission, said that bilateral ties are witnessing “a very public engagement to take relations forward” and mentioned the bilateral Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI), which he said was for co-production with India.
“What is changing is the confidence… the range of visits and talks indicate we are moving forward,” the US official added.
According to author Gurcharan Das, the “proof of the pudding is in the business-to-business relations”. He said if India can raise its name in ease of doing business, it would add a fillip to ties.
The event was moderated by former diplomat Surendra Kumar, co-founder of the Indo-American Friendship Association, and also addressed by Denise M. Jorgens, director of International House at the University of Chicago.