India is the breakout partner for the US, defying what may once have seemed an improbable relationship.
Once a proud people whose every whim became a global fad, it was now a country divided by identity, perverse politics, and an enduring uncertainty about the future beyond 2024.Pax Americana was now just a nostalgic musing. The country that had been identified by South Block’s brains trust as India’s most consequential partner in this century, was unrecognisable. Once a proud people whose every whim became a global fad, it was now divided by identity, perverse politics, and an enduring uncertainty about the future beyond 2024. Elections, celebrations of pluralism elsewhere were viewed in the United States with trepidation. In the last decades of the Roman Empire life may not have been too different. A bloated sense of virtuosity and entitlement, obsession with gender and sexuality, and condescension towards the different were some among the common attributes. Add to that the always present dark underbelly of American society – racism. This was now all-pervasive and normalised across the political spectrum, either as nationalist fervour or ‘woke’ swag. And the power of the American media meant this dysfunction reached industrial, global scale. Orientalism was justified as freedom of expression and a divine endowment that fed its preferred echo chambers. Cancel culture was popular culture. Newspapers once again became pamphlets, and gun culture was the manifestation of a society determined to shoot itself in the foot. The Supreme Court of the United States was indicted and found guilty in the court of public opinion of disenfranchising half its population and become part of the political circus.
The Supreme Court of the United States was indicted in its collaboration to disenfranchise half its population and become part of the political circus.Maybe it was time for another democracy and plural society to step in. It was the right moment for the US to hear PM Modi’s assertion that “India has proved that democracies can deliver <…> regardless of class, creed, religion and gender” and “there is absolutely no space for discrimination”. This assertion has weight. It comes from a man leading a nation with more diverse communities, cultures, and customs than any other on the planet, and cognisant of the challenge of defending pluralism in a world where disorder is the favoured operating system. The state must serve the streets, not surrender to it was the Modi proposition. For India, despite the recent developments, America was still the best bet. A superpower in decline was easier to negotiate with and seek bargains from. A people most like its own were easier to disagree with and yet collaborate to build a basis for the broadly similar future we would share.
The state must serve the streets, not surrender to it was the Modi proposition.Of course, as it did this, it would need to develop a thick skin and rebuff the commentariat from the Beltway. It would need to challenge Californian technology platforms that promote hate, cancel speech, suppress dissent or amplify irrationality depending on the politics that mattered to them. The challenge for India was to do both even as it set about expanding the strategic content of its partnership with the Biden team. And it had to do this while seeking to preserve its geopolitical space in a world where choosing sides was an obsession. Assertiveness and confidence defined PM Modi’s body language as he strode down the steps of Air India One. A day earlier, he had announced India’s position on Moscow: “We are not neutral. We are on the side of peace” – a message to both Russia and to DC’s ‘forever wars’ lobby. He also expressed confidence about bolstering India-US cooperation at forums like the G20, the Quad, and the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity. On American soil, he looked every inch the global leader who had put the idea of strategic alignment with the oldest democracy on steroids. This commitment was what he brought to the White House and raised the partnership five notches higher in tandem with President Biden who, despite domestic noise, turned up with his own firm resolution.
India’s cultural and constitutional realities would need to be protected even if it meant throwing the harsh end of the rule book at some technology behemoths and meddlesome institutions cloaking themselves under thew garb of virtuosity.First, India and the US have elevated their technology partnership to new heights. Both leaders hailed the launch of the Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technologies in January 2023, recommitting their countries to the creation of an open, accessible, and secure technology ecosystem. Defence cooperation received a major boost with a landmark agreement for the joint production of fighter jet engines in India. In the domain of civil space exploration, NASA and ISRO will undertake a joint mission to the International Space Station in 2024. And a Semiconductor Supply Chain and Innovation Partnership has been launched to galvanize both countries’ semiconductor programmes. In each case, India is the breakout partner for the US, defying what may once have seemed an improbable relationship. Second, the wide-ranging defence deals – which also included the joint adoption of a Defence Industrial Cooperation Roadmap and the launch of the US-India Defence Acceleration Ecosystem – are not merely commercial transactions but indicative of a definite strategic direction. The co-production of jet engines; exercises in collaborative research, testing, and prototyping; and joint def-tech innovation all have implications beyond the deals themselves. They provide international stability, and fortify India’s position as a strong, progressive nation. For the US, they act as investments in the Indo-Pacific construct, and in a country that is now a geopolitically robust actor.
India is the breakout partner for the US, defying what may once have seemed an improbable relationship.In a sense, the transfer of GE F414 jet engine technology and the sale of General Atomic predator drones in a government-to-government deal constitutes strengthening the frontline of democracy in the emerging geopolitical contest against authoritarianism. These platforms will be deployed where it counts; in contrast constructs such as AUKUS are contingency planning. Third, the rousing reception of PM Modi’s speech at the US Congress – and the 15 odd ovations he received for his celebration of the values of democracy, the unity of cultures, women’s empowerment, sustainable development, and technological advancement – more than drowned out the axis of drivel represented by the half-dozen members of Congress who chose to boycott his address. Their pandering to their vote banks cannot undermine the stature of an Indian Prime Minister. The applause that reverberated through Congress was a vindication of India’s global stature, and of the PM’s belief that the “
The applause that reverberated through Congress was a vindication of Indian leadership, and of the PM’s belief that the “The fifth and final “notch” has to do with continuity. The ties between the world’s oldest and largest democracies are enduring. From President Bush to Biden, with Obama and Trump in between, and from PM Vajpayee to Modi, with Manmohan Singh in between, we have seen heads of government on both sides staunchly committed to this relationship. Across parties, this has resulted in an abiding vision of a bipartisan future. But it is now essential as well to recognize this partnership’s vitality for world affairs, its global impact on inclusive growth and development, and ultimately on peace and prosperity. As the joint statement by the US and India puts it, “No corner of human enterprise is untouched by the partnership between
relationship is prime for a momentous future, and that future is today”.
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Samir Saran is the President of the Observer ResearchRead More +