September 26, 2014 marked the start of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s five-day American tour. This was Modi’s first trip to the U.S since his election in May, following a nine-year visa ban, over accusations that in 2002, when he was Chief Minister of Gujarat, he did nothing to stop the massive anti-Muslim rioting that led to the deaths of over 1000 people. Modi’s visit included an address at the UN General Assembly, meetings with CEOs of major international companies (including Google), a speech at Madison Square Garden that drew a crowd of around 20,000 and a dinner with U.S President Barack Obama (during which Modi didn’t actually eat, since he was on a religious fast).
Modi’s visit foretells mostly good things for Indo-American relations. Previously, the relationship between the two nations has been fine at best. But with India’s star on the rise, and the growing importance (read: potentially impending turbulence) of the broader region, the U.S could really use Asia’s largest democracy as an ally. The renewed American interest in India is also an attempt to combat the increasing power of China, especially given Modi’s vision for India to challenge China for Asian primacy this century.
The Prime Minister’s trip comes at a critical time. India is currently in a very transitional phase, and the country is working to figure out exactly what they want for the future. Under Modi, the Indian government has developed a fairly clear economic, political and social vision. During the presidential race, Modi and his party the National Democratic Alliance ran on a platform of ten priorities, a blueprint for their developmental. This ten point agenda is centered on increased transparency, innovation, efficiency and sustainability. As for foreign policy, Modi, like Obama, is looking to build bridges with the East, in his own “pivot to Asia.” In this vein, his first major international visit as the Indian Prime Minister was to Japan. Beyond Modi’s personal issues, the Indian government is also uncertain of the sincerity behind Obama and the United States’s commitment to supporting India and the East-Asian region given all the other hot-button foreign policy issues such as Russia’s interventions in Ukraine and the U.S campaign against radical Islamists in the Middle East.
Modi’s visit and the mixed but vocal response shows the importance of U.S-India relations. And if the enamored crowd at Madison Square Garden is any indication, the U.S is ready to welcome a stronger Indo-American partnership.
(cross posted from Smart Girls Group)