Modi in America highlights growing ties

Modi in America highlights growing ties

Narendra Modi’s fourth visit to the U.S. in two years is an indication of how strong the US-India relationship is becoming.

June 2016 marks Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s fourth visit to the USA in a little over two years since being elected in 2014: a sign if anything that the U.S. and India are becoming closer together. This is a shift when India has historically aligned itself with the Soviet Union/Russia and then as part of the BRIC nations in an effort to stay out of America’s orbit.

The established links between India and America are important as both countries attempt to compete with Pakistan and China, their respective rivals, as well as combat the continuing security threat in Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, and the wider Middle East.

Modi: From persona non grata to VIP

This visit is significant for a number of reasons. First of all, it makes Modi the fifth Indian prime minister to address a joint session of Congress. Secondly, it confirms a complete turnaround from three years ago when Modi was banned from entering the U.S. over allegations related to the 2002 Gujarat riots. The visit also demonstrates that President Obama and Modi have a good relationship and are willing to work together.

It is also significant for democracy, as Modi validly stated this is a relationship between the world’s biggest democracy and one of the world’s oldest democracies. Having these two powers working together is an important counter to competing illiberal states like Russia and China.

As for India itself, the relationship is hugely important. India is making its mark as one of the world’s fastest growing economies, with New Delhi’s GDP growth outpacing China’s. U.S.-India trade increased to $107 billion in 2015 and this meeting means that it is only likely to increase further. Furthermore, India is competing with both China and Pakistan on different fronts (economically and politically respectively) and a strong U.S.-India relationship helps to combat that.

The recent assassination of Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour reminds India that they have a volatile region right on their doorstep. Therefore, to have an ally with a strong military, such as the U.S., is a good security buffer. India, with a population of around 120 million Muslims, is a country also vulnerable to Islamist radicalisation, making it even more critical for them to contain the threat posed from those countries.

Finally an additional boon from this trip is that it follows Modi’s BJP’s victory in Assam’s May 2016 state elections. Modi was elected on a mandate of improving India’s economy and opening it to the international community: this strong relationship with the U.S. certainly helps achieve that goal.

Washington also seeks to gain

Just as India needs a partner to help keep it safe from terrorism, the U.S. needs a regional ally to help with the continuing struggle against terrorism. Strengthening India to counterbalance a potentially dangerous Pakistan is a useful strategy. Furthermore, China is a rival to both India and the U.S.. From Washington’s perspective, its tensions with China in the South China sea is a growing naval conflict and so to have India as a potential counterweight to that, even if it is on land, could be a good option.

Furthermore, the Obama administration made bringing Iran back into the international scene with the recent nuclear agreement a cornerstone foreign policy success. Having an ally, in the form of India, which is growing its trade relationship with Iran, is therefore very helpful for Obama in the final months of his presidency. Indeed, India recently signed a deal with Iran to invest $500 million in Iran’s Chabahar port and is clearly continuing to expand its economic footprint in the country.

Despite this, the upcoming U.S. presidential election is going to be very significant. Donald Trump is a hard figure to read but right now is ultimately running on a right-wing platform. Similarly, the Indian BJP government is a right-wing government. Therefore, if Trump wins, the relationship will feasibly stay strong but may make a shift to the right further, especially if they take a more hardline stance against Muslims as both sides have tended to express.

It is clear that the U.S.-India relationship is currently in a strong position. Modi’s visit to Washington is the clearest sign of that. For both countries the relationship is important economically, from a security perspective and politically. As we near closer to the November 2016 U.S. elections it will be interesting to see how ties progresses.

About Author

Rayhan Chouglay

Rayhan Chouglay is a GRI Analyst. He holds a BA in History from the London School of Economics with a particular focus on Hindu-Muslim relations in South Asia. His main political risk interests concern relations between India and Pakistan.