It is a measure of rising India’s rising profile that the country is earning respect globally. Thanks to its civilizational value of considering the whole world as its family, India is committed to playing a significant role in creating a more peaceful and equitable world order. India has also made it clear that each global issue is addressed on its merits.
India takes a stand on it, not under any country’s pressure but on the basis of its strategic autonomy in decision-making on international affairs while protecting its own national interests. This theme has been conveyed to all the visiting dignitaries to India over the last few days – Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Nepal’s Premier Sher Bahadur Deuba, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Greek Foreign Minister Nicos Dendias, Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Casaubon, German National Security Adviser Jens Plotner, National Security Advisor of the Netherlands Geoffrey Van Leeuwen and US Deputy National Security Adviser for International economics Daleep Singh, among others.
Above all, the theme of playing its global role on the basis of its own strategic autonomy and national interests has been strongly conveyed to the United States, the sole superpower of the world. It seems the US has begun appreciating the Indian position. In fact, the virtual summit between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Joe Biden on April 11, ahead of the 2+2 Dialogue among the foreign and defence ministers of the two countries (Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III from the US and Minister of Defence Rajnath Singh and Minister of External Affairs S. Jaishankar from India) at Washington has brought India and the US closer, notwithstanding their differences over the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Of course, it is a known fact that the US would be happier if India takes a stand on Russia identical to that of America and stops economic and military interactions with Moscow. The US would love India to go with the sanctions that it has imposed on Russia. But PM Modi, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar have conveyed India’s difficulties on this to the US.
All told, as a vibrant democracy like the US, India has some reservations about the way things have affected Russia and Ukraine. Many Indians understand Russia’s concern over its security, with its neighbours being allowed to join NATO, contrary to the understanding that Washington had with Moscow before the dissolution of the then Soviet Union in 1991.
Secondly, many Indians are increasingly worried if domestic compulsions and foreign policy interventions of the countries, howsoever powerful they may be, should be enforced upon other countries. China has domestic interests at the centre of its claim of total sovereignty over the South China Sea, but that’s something totally untenable under international law. Likewise, many think Indians will not like the US to force others to follow the economic sanctions it has imposed on Russia.
The US wants India to stop importing oil from Russia. But then, as India’s External Affairs Minister Jaishankar said at a news conference soon after the conclusion of the 2 plus 2 meetings, “The focus should be on Europe, not India, whose total purchases (of crude) for the month would be less than what Europe does in an afternoon.” It is really absurd that despite American sanctions, its NATO allies continue to buy crude from Russia, but India is not expected to do so.
Thirdly, India’s national interests do not allow any linkage between its policies toward the US and Russia.
All told, it is Russia that gives sophisticated weapons and platforms to India even before their induction into its own military. It is Russia that gives nuclear submarines on lease to India. One does not need to overemphasize the importance for India of frontline weapons systems such as S- 400 missile shields, Sukhoi Su-30 MKI fighter planes, T-90 tanks, and the nuclear-powered Akula-II-class SSNs, and assistance to sensitive indigenous projects like the nuclear powered ballistic missile-firing Arihantclass submarine. All this is not to suggest that the relationship between New Delhi and Washington is less important than the Indo-Russia relationship. Far from it, the US now is a major arms supplier to India. It has concluded various deals worth nearly US $20 billion over the last decade. Besides, India is now a country with which the United States conducts the largest number of peace-time military exercises bilaterally every year (nearly 70).
I have often argued that though Indo-US relations overall have seen more downs than ups, downs now will not descend to a level of horrific low that marked the ties between the 1960s and early 1990s. This is largely due to the ascendancy of the Indian-Americans both in number and profile in the United States. Indian Americans have been continuously outpacing every ethnic group socioeconomically to reach the summit of the US Census charts. They have attained the highest educational levels of all ethnic groups in the US and now occupy very important positions in US politics and business. An Indian –American now is the US Vice President. The Biden Administration is full of Indian-American officials.
India and the United States have everything to gain as close partners, if not as allies, given their shared ideals of democracy, pluralistic ways of life, equality and justice. If India is the largest democracy, then America is the most powerful and arguably the oldest. They need to see things in a more comprehensive manner as “partners in global affairs” in general and particularly so in the most important geopolitical as well as geoeconomic Indo-Pacific region through QUAD and other arrangements that they have created in recent years along with countries like Japan and Australia.
It is heartening indeed that as “natural and trusted partners”, the two countries have just agreed to strengthen their ever-expanding broader cooperation “with a shared commitment to democracy and pluralism, a multifaceted bilateral agenda, and growing convergence of strategic interests”. Both have agreed to “seek to continue to promote a resilient, rules-based international order that safeguards sovereignty and territorial integrity, upholds democratic values, and promotes peace and prosperity for all.”
It is in the fitness of things that the ModiBiden summit, as the White House statement said, turned out as ‘a warm and candid conversation’ lasting an hour in which the two leaders talked of ‘shared values and commitments’ and went on to cover a wide range of subjects that included China’s expansionism, respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations in the Indo-Pacific and beyond, India’s energy and defence needs, and humanitarian aid to the war-ravaged Ukraine.
And at the two plus two meetings among the two countries’ defense and foreign ministers (secretaries in the US parlance), discussions converged broadly on three points: One, India and the US agreed to strategise on mitigating the volatility and unpredictability that the world is currently experiencing. That will be naturally reflected in their policies, in the days to come. Two, the talks “encouraged” the two countries to think together about long-term challenges, especially in the Indo-Pacific. And three, the deliberations “energised” the two nations in their “collaborative endeavours to build, what is emerging as a key bilateral relationship of our times”. These are not small achievements as India and the US are celebrating their 75 years of diplomatic relations.
An all-encompassing affair
In the “Two plus Two” meeting, the Ministers discussed areas that usually do not figure in the media. Here is a glimpse into the same
In order to strengthen the commercial and economic pillar of the India-U.S. partnership to advance economic growth and deliver mutual prosperity for both countries, the ministers applauded the rebound in bilateral trade between the two countries over the last year, surpassing $113 billion in goods. They welcomed the 12th Ministerial-level meeting of the India-U.S. Trade Policy Forum (TPF) and the renewal of Working Group discussions to expand bilateral trade, remove market access barriers, and improve ease of business.
They looked forward to both sides developing action plans that identify and prioritize the resolution of specific trade concerns to build on the progress made during the last TPF Ministerial meeting. The Ministers reiterated the importance of a transparent and predictable business environment to facilitate private-sector investment.
They looked forward to reconvening the India-U.S. Commercial Dialogue and the CEO Forum this year to enhance economic cooperation, boost commercial ties, and encourage private-sector recommendations for both governments. The Ministers appreciated the discussions held during the eighth ministerial-level India-U.S. Economic and Financial Partnership meeting in October 2021, which focused on continued cooperation on a range of subjects including financial regulatory and technical collaboration, multilateral engagement, climate finance, anti-money laundering, and combating the financing of terrorism
The Ministers commended ongoing engagement under the two main tracks of the India-U.S. Climate and Clean Energy Agenda 2030 Partnership – the Climate Action and Finance Mobilization Dialogue (CAFMD) and the Strategic Clean Energy Partnership (SCEP) – to explore and identify low carbon pathways to develop and undertake joint research and development projects, mobilise finance, develop and promote green technologies, and enhance technical collaboration aimed at building on complementarities for facilitating energy transition. To this end, the Ministers affirmed the intent to work together for the exchange of best practices and development of technology transfer to enable the affordable deployment of clean and emerging energy technologies, including commercialization and scaling up projects related to battery storage, offshore wind energy, green hydrogen production, and rooftop solar technology development in India.
The Ministers expressed satisfaction with the progress made on different collaborative initiatives under the India-U.S. Civil Nuclear Energy Working Group and the Global Centre for Nuclear Energy Partnership Joint Working Group. The Ministers noted ongoing negotiations between the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) and Westinghouse Electric Company (WEC) for the construction of six nuclear reactors in India. They welcomed progress through consultations between the U.S. Department of Energy and India’s Department of Atomic Energy for facilitating opportunities for WEC to develop a techno-commercial proposal for the Kovvada nuclear project. They also noted the progress in an ongoing discussion on developing next-generation small modular reactor technologies in a collaborative model for the domestic market as well as for export.
Lauding the vibrant educational linkages between India and the United States, the Ministers reiterated their support for further strengthening cooperation in the field of education and skill development through joint collaborations and promoting student and scholar mobility to strengthen people-to-people linkages between the two countries. In this regard, the ministers announced the intent to establish a new India-U.S.
Education and Skills Development Working Group. The Ministers also appreciated the contribution of the Fulbright-Nehru program in furthering the exchange of outstanding academics and professionals between both countries and the special role that the four million-strong Indian American diaspora plays in deepening India-U.S. relations.
Welcoming the resumption of regular air travel between the two countries and expressing hope that this would encourage tourism and business travel, the Ministers acknowledged that the movement of skilled professionals, students, entrepreneurs, investors, and business travelers between our countries plays an important role in catalyzing innovation and economic opportunity. India welcomed the waiver, through December 31.
2022, of in-person visa interviews for applicants that were previously issued any type of visa and are now applying for certain nonimmigrant visa classifications, which include those for Persons in Specialty Occupation, Academic and Vocational Students, and Intracompany Transferees. The Ministers underlined the importance of continued engagement on visa issues, welcomed the December 2021 meeting for the bilateral Consular Dialogue, and resolved to continue efforts to facilitate the reciprocal movement of professionals, business persons, skilled workers, experts and scientific personnel.