In the annals of Indo-US ties, 2015 would be remembered as a transformative year which set the tone for a new dimension of active engagements at the top leadership level and a growing defence partnership that is set to become an anchor of global security.
The year started with a historic India visit of US President Barack Obama wherein he attended the annual Republic Day Parade in New Delhi on January 26.
By this he not only became the first American president to attend the top Indian parade, but also only the first one to visit India twice. Dismissing the security concerns of the secret service, Obama sat in an open arena for three hours watching the parade that gave him a glimpse of India’s cultural diversity and its military might.
His visit also resulted in resolving the contentious pending issues in the civil nuclear deal. President Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided to establish a hotline between them and launch a Strategic and Commercial Dialogue and renew India-US Defence partnership agreement; thus giving a new dimension to this strategic bilateral ties at a time when China is flexing its muscle in disputed South China Sea.
Marshall Bouton, Senior Fellow for India at the Asia Society Policy Institute, said that Obama’s unprecedented visit as Republic Day chief guest is a “powerful symbol of the new energy he and Prime Minister Modi have brought to India-US relations”.
The results were visible by the time when curtain came down on 2015. Obama and Modi had met thrice during the year the two subsequent meetings were in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly and one in Paris on the sidelines of the climate change summit. Obama and Modi started talking frequently over the hotline, after it was established this summer. The US President has hotline or a secure line of communication only for a few world leaders.
Modi and Obama’s warm personal ties have helped America’s higher education sector growing at extraordinary rate in last one year. Number of Indian students going to the United States has gone up by a whopping 29.4 per cent within a year, compared to 6% previous year following three years of consistent decline, reveals the latest ‘Open Doors Report’.
US Ambassador to India Richard Verma said that during the recently concluded climate negotiations in Paris President Obama and Prime Minister Modi talked regularly on new secure communications lines to find common ground and develop ways to proceed in reaching an agreement.
“What we are witnessing in the US-India partnership is the culmination of years of effort actually decades of hard work that has yielded important results for both nations. This past year, in particular, was especially transformative,” he said.
This Fall, India and the US launched the first-ever Strategic and Commercial Dialogue, bringing a whole-of- government approach. Currently there are 30+ working groups and government-to-government dialogues between the two sides that have been established on everything from space cooperation, cyber security, global health security and civil aviation.
In December, Manohar Parrikar became the first Indian defense minister to visit the Pacific Command headquarters in Hawaii and given a rare insight of a nuclear powered aircraft carrier.
US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter himself accompanied US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter himself accompanied Parrikar to America’s top nuclear powered aircraft carrier USS Eisenhower and give his Indian counterpart a ride on his personal plane. At the end of the day, the two leaders spent nine hours together at a stretch last week.
Carter, who had visited India this summer to sign and renew the India-US Defence Partnership agreement for another 10 years, said the defence partnership between the United States and India will become “an anchor of global security.” Being described as a milestone, the Defence Trade and Technology Initiative has gained its own momentum as the two sides have started talking for co-operation in the field of jet engine and aircraft carriers in addition to co-development and co-production of a number of hi-tech military hardware. Bilateral defence trade this year crossed USD 14 billion.
“Our cooperation became more regular, even routine, which had the effect not only of building a certain durability and resiliency in our relationship that is critical to moving to the next level, but also in resolving disputes,” Verma says.
Agrees his Indian counterpart. “Today, it is natural for India and the US to consult regularly on all major policy issues of the day – be it security of the global commons, reform of the international economic and financial architecture or creation of an open, balanced and inclusive architecture in Asia-Pacific and the Indian Ocean Region,” Indian Ambassador to the US Arun K Singh says.
“Our countries have taken their global partnership to third countries where our expertise and resources are valued,” Singh observes. India and the US signed on to a common vision for the security of the Asia-Pacific. Bilateral trade between India and the US is now around USD 100 billion – rising five-fold in the last decade.
Obama and Modi have set a goal of taking it to USD 500 billion in the next few years. While sharp differences between the two nations remain on some of the key trade related issues including agriculture, pharma sector, intellectual property and H-1B visas, unlike in the previous years it did not spill out in the open or threatened to challenge the bilateral relationship. Officials of the two countries now talk on a regular basis and have been brain storming on how to amicably address those differences.
“We have put in place the structures to tackle those issues that not only unite us, but we can engage on those issues that might divide us as well. This is the hallmark of a mature and lasting friendship,” Verma said.
The new bonhomie in India US ties is also reflected in the people-to-people relationship as a record number of Indian tourists came to the US. By the end of the year some 180,000 Indian students were studying in various American universities. Between July and November alone more than 50,000 Indian students came to the US for higher studies.
(With inputs from PTI)