Obama Visit: Right Time, Real Issues, Inadvertently!

Obama visit on Republic day

Obama visit on Republic dayIn the midst of much despair, destruction and violence across the world, a refreshing ray of hope is President Barack Obama’s visit to India, for the Republic Day celebrations this year. Accepting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s invitation to be the Chief Guest on the 66th Republic Day Parade in New Delhi, Barack Obama becomes the first US President to attend the celebrations which mark the historic event of India’s adoption of its own Constitution.

Let us make no mistake here: this visit of the American President will be crucial not only in strengthening Indo-US bilateral ties, but its repercussions will interest much of the world, Western and Non-Western.

As the US and Indian security agencies are working out all possible arrangements to ensure maximum protection and safeguards for the most powerful man in the political world today, let us briefly look at some of the key issues which are likely to be brought to table, and which we hope, in effect, will be symbolic in leading the way forward.

Secretary of State John Kerry has hinted at four plausible concerns that President Obama may discuss with Modi. These negotiations include, but are not exhaustive to, climate change, defence ties such as military purchases and investments, economic advancements and more critically, Indo-US civil nuclear liability issues.

• Climate change issue and progress in solar energy production: How crucial is the issue of climate change in the concern for escalating environmental degradation? As per recent statistics, India’s production and emission of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide is increasing rapidly, although it is still behind the annual emission by the US and China, the two most powerful economies in the world. This not only adversely affects climatic balance, but necessitates the need for the production of more renewable energy, especially solar energy. Ahead of a UN conference to be held later this year in France, India’s cooperation in agreeing to an acceptable limit of emission is much sought after, although it remains to be seen if Narendra Modi will accept such a proposal at the cost of burdening India’s own industries.

• Indo-US defence relations

Indo-US defence relations have consistently remained strong. Especially in relation to US military purchases, India remains the foremost buyer of the exported military weapons from the US. This holds further relevance in the context of the regional issues that India faces, vis-a-vis its political relationships with Pakistan, China and Afghanistan. How does this benefit America, beyond its narrow economic advancements in defence, one may ask. America’s genuine interest to contain China can only be spearheaded by India’s active involvement and outreach to other Asian countries like Japan and Vietnam. This can be realised only when India is sufficiently aided with a firm military resource from the largest supplier, US. This complex network of exchanges must be worked out correctly to understand why the defence issue is high-priority between Modi and Obama.

• Strengthening trade exchanges

John Kerry talked about the importance of growing healthy trade exchanges between India and the US. US Trade Representative Michael Froman, in his visit to India last November, stressed on the delimiting factor of India’s protectionism which hindered the country’s realisation of maximum economic potential. The significant challenges that American companies face in India due to its control on foreign investments, restrictions on American agricultural products from hitting Indian markets and inadequate protection of the companies’ intellectual-property rights, have significantly reduced American participation in Indian economy, it has been pointed out. Obama’s exchanges with Modi, we believe, will give rise to an enhanced interactive bilateral forum through videoconferences and meetings between the two countries. We also believe that strengthening Indo-US economic growth will usher in a much-deserved success for Modi’s clarion call for ‘development’.

• Progress in space research

A vital issue that can be taken up in this Obama-Modi meeting is the immediate need to enhance progress in space research and exploration in India. Narendra Modi has, at various occasions, expressed his zeal in scientific progress and growth which is a crucial marker of a country’s growth and modernity. Multibillion investments are needed for further space explorations, after the congratulatory event of ISRO’s launching the Mangalyaan in the Mars orbit in a single attempt. He is likely to take up the issue of investments in space research with Obama, who we know, shares the same zeal in science and technology.

• Deadlock in nuclear deal  

This meeting could be expected to bring an end to the stalemate in Indo-US nuclear engagements. In fact, our new stringent nuclear liability laws that have led to this deadlock, were anchored in the background of our experience with the Bhopal Gas Tragedy of 1984 where the American Union Carbide washed its hands of the liabilities of the world’s largest industrial tragedy.

The Nuclear Liability Law legislated in 2010, in specific, held nuclear equipment suppliers liable for any damage caused from any accident. This law, which does not abide by international norms, has discouraged the massive Western markets from carrying out their business in India. The Modi-Obama meeting will go a long way in resolving the present imbroglio in the relationship vis-a-vis the nuclear business between the two countries.

• Dealing with terrorism

Looking beyond these tangible issues and anxieties, it does not remain to be said that in a world ripped apart by terrorist attacks and fundamentalist assertions, especially in the current scenario obtaining in Europe, the Modi-Obama meet will have much to deliberate and act to combat such dreadful activities, which incidentally, victimise the US and India more than any other. This convergence of interest on peace from terrorism is emblematic of more sustained strategic partnership between India and the US.

Haters may have much to say regarding this particular visit of Barack Obama. While we learn to disagree with grace, we must also learn to appreciate with grace. We must appreciate how Modi’s energy and determination to pull India out of some of the most serious challenges, has enthralled not just us, but the US President himself. If this admiration for Modi, by Obama, can turn into some real, tangible benefits for Indian economy and polity, we must, for once, allow that to happen, rather than shout empty rhetoric.

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Republic day of India