66 applauses, 10 standing ovations. What a transformation! Hardly a decade ago, Narendra Modi was denied the visa to enter the US. On 8 June the prime minister Modi won repeated applause, 66 times and 10 standing ovations by the law makers of the US at the combined meeting of senators and congressmen from the House of Representatives.
It was an evocative speech effectively and cleverly combining the strengths of the oldest democracy of the US and the largest democracy of India. Modi referred to the strengths and the rich contributions of the American constitution to the equality, freedom of the individual and the vibrancy of the American democracy. He also presented the highlights of such features enshrined in the Indian constitution.
The turning point in the Indo-US relations, we believe, commenced at the time of the NDA government headed by A B Vajpayee. This eloquent speaker also addressed the US Congress to great effect. This beginning was well cemented by Dr Manmohan Singh. I have had the opportunity to be present when Dr Singh addressed the combined law makers of the US Senate and the House of Representatives in July 2005. The Bush administration endorsed its interest on closer cooperation with India in several fields including nuclear power for peaceful purposes, higher education, agriculture, science and technology. Unfortunately Dr Singh could not pursue the deals with speed as the UPA government was then supported by the Communists in the coalition set up to retain power. Dr Singh staked his all in his struggle to conclude the nuclear deal and did succeed by mustering enough support. The Communists wouldn’t pardon him for this.
Narendra Modi with a decisive majority in the lower house of parliament has been able to take this cooperation to a much higher level. In these two years cooperation with the US has strengthened in a wide range of sectors, most notably defence. In a short time, defence deals and cooperation between the two countries have surged to 10 billion dollars. Though it is still modest, there has been substantial progress in terms of nuclear cooperation. It should however be pointed out that despite the passage of eleven years since Manmohan Singh initiated the nuclear cooperation agreement, not a single project in this sector has taken off the ground.
Modi’s speech focused on several concrete issues of development. He listed the to-do list that is long and ambitious. These included a vibrant rural economy with robust farm sector; a roof over each head and electricity to all households; to skill millions of youth; build 100 smart cities; have a broadband for a billion and connect villages to the digital world and create a 21st century rail, road and port infrastructure.
Modi re-assured that these were not just aspirations but goals to be reached in a finite time frame.
Challenges before the two countries
Of course, these goals should have impressed the law makers of the US. Modi referred to the challenges faced by both the countries, especially relating to terrorism. He pointed to such terrorist activities across India’s border with Pakistan on the west and made a forceful plea to the lawmakers of the US to be cautious in helping that nation through aid.
It is true the US is the India’s largest trading partner and provider of technology and support over a vast area. The Indian diaspora in the US that has expanded over the last two decades from around 2 million to 3 million, has been active in strengthening the ties between the two countries.
In the two years of Modi government significant advances have been made in the field of external relations. Modi has taken special care to strengthen such relations with several developed countries. His subtle reference to the resistance faced by his government due to the lack of majority in the upper house had its parallel in the US as well and thus was well received. Modi should continue to build on the foundation laid by his predecessor Dr Manmohan Singh in 2005. He should build consensus on strengthening such collaboration in quick time. The smart cities, railway, port and other infrastructure development and nuclear power programmes can benefit immensely by forging strong ties with the US. The prime minister’s close relations with US president Barack Obama and his recent efforts to impress lawmakers’ augur well for such cooperation.