With pomp and patriotism, India is celebrating its 66th Republic Day today. Taking the salute from the military parade at Rajpath, Barack Obama’s presence will mark the highest point in Indo–American relations till date. He is the first US President to grace India’s R–Day celebrations as chief guest, which sigls the closer bonding between Delhi and Washington. The occasion will be rich with symbolism — that the largest and the oldest democracies in the world have put behind an antagonistic era to begin sharing strong common interests. Underpinning this convergence is the growing chemistry between rendra Modi and Barack Obama, taking over from where Manmohan Singh and George W Bush had left off. Prime Minister Modi and President Obama are leaders who have hitched their respective economic and social agendas on the back of pro–active foreign policies. This is the second summit meeting between them in the last four months, and there is much hope that substance will be added to symbolism as the bilateral talks get going. Slated to focus primarily upon defence, climate and energy, trade and counter–terrorism, this round of Indo–US engagement is expected to carry forward rendra Modi’s drive to chart out his own foreign policy. He has made it clear that the US is very important in his scheme of things.
Critical to Prime Minister Modi’s goal of providing 24–hour electricity to all Indians by 2020 will be nuclear energy. It seems a breakthrough has already been made in operatiolizing the Indo–US civil nuclear deal. On Sunday, the US President intervened to waive off a condition earlier imposed by US negotiators. This was their demand to track nuclear material supplied to India, which India had dubbed ‘intrusive’ considering the safeguards imposed by the Intertiol Atomic Energy Agency. The US now seems agreeable to go by IAEA inspection of India’s use of nuclear material and equipment. There are signs of progress in another sticking point which has held up the nuclear deal for the past seven years. This is the Indian liability law which holds nuclear suppliers directly liable in case of a nuclear accident. Countries like the US and France insist that the primary liability is with the operator, and in India the operator is the public sector Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. This means that if a nuclear accident occurs, it is the Indian government that will have to pay damages. This is an extremely sensitive issue considering India’s experience with the Bhopal gas disaster brought about by the US company Union Carbide. There are now indications that the US may agree to India’s proposal to build an insurance pool to provide cover to nuclear suppliers in case of accidents.
While the US is reportedly keen to offer several new defence technologies and weapon systems, India is more interested in joint development, particularly in drone technology and projecting air and val power. As for counter–terrorism, the two countries already share a high level of intelligence. Electronic surveillance and cyber–security are two areas of much interest for India. It remains to be seen whether Delhi can access the Washington–Islamabad intelligence sharing axis to neutralise terrorist threats effectively. In the past decade, the bilateral trade has grown five–fold to 100 billion dollars and the two countries will explore ways to boost trade ties to a far higher level. How far the US responds to Prime Minister Modi’s ‘Make in India’ policy will also be keenly observed. Climate change and global warming are also likely to figure high in the talks since both rendra Modi and Barack Obama have given the issue much importance. Whether India gives binding commitments to limit its carbon emissions like Chi remains to be seen. But India is likely to make a strong pitch seeking US support for its clean and renewable energy sector, particularly solar technology. Before setting off on his India visit, the US President outlined his vision of the two countries being ‘global partners’ on the world stage. Whatever tangible benefits India and US derive from the talks, how the two democracies strategically view Islamic terrorism and Chi’s growing power will determine how much closer they draw together as tural allies.