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Why a resurgent India needs to be wooed The Statesman 13 Jun 2023
India has been dubbed by anti-India groups as an ‘electoral autocracy.’ This is because they assume that the current Indian leadership restricts free speech, censor’s media, oppresses civil society organizations and cracks down on political opponents. The expelling of Rahul Gandhi from parliament, after his conviction, has been claimed as cracking down on opponents. Free speech advocates received a boost when Income Tax authorities raided BBC offices for tax evasion soon after the release of the documentary on the Gujrat riots. It was believed to be an act of retaliation.
None of the accusers retracted their comments when the BBC itself acknowledged that it had evaded taxes. Statements by Indian democracy critics are exploited by multiple private or public funded organizations working overtime to bring down the global image of the current Delhi dispensation. The Indian government has always debunked any finger pointing against it.
It appears all their combined efforts to impact the US leadership to criticize India has come to naught. Statements by US government representatives present a different image. John Kirby, of the National Security Council (NSC), in response to a journalist’s question stated, ‘India is a vibrant democracy. Anybody that happens to go to New Delhi can see that for themselves.’ As Kurt Campbell, President Biden’s advisor on the Indo-Pacific stated, ‘both (India and the US) are imperfect democracies.’
There is also no question that the world needs India in case it seeks to counter growing global threats. As Prashant Jha writes in The Hindustan Times, ‘No global problem can be addressed without India in the room. From the NSC to the State Department to the Pentagon, officials have said that they have a clear directive from their bosses, make the Indian relationship work.’
It is in this environment that PM Modi is visiting Washington. Vedant Patel, Deputy Spokesperson for the US Department of State, mentioned in a press briefing, ‘Our partnership with India is one of our most consequential and we look forward to continuing deepen our collaboration on a number of issues, whether it be enhancing security cooperation, deepening our economic ties, deepening trade issues.’
Recently a US Congressional Committee even suggested strengthening of NATO by including India in the five-member NATO Plus grouping to counter increasing strategic competition with China, an offer India declined. The forthcoming visit of PM Modi has generated a higher level of interest in Washington than visits of most other global leaders. The US terms Delhi-Washington relations as cooperation and collaboration of the world’s oldest democracy with the globe’s largest.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean Pierre mentioned in a press interaction that the visit would strengthen US-India shared commitment to a free, open, prosperous and secure Indo-Pacific and shared resolve to evaluate strategic technology partnership, including in defence, clean energy and space. India today is the major stumbling block to Chinese attempts to dominate the Indo-Pacific and Africa. Indian soft power and the impact of its vaccine diplomacy was evident in the PMs recent visit to Papua New Guinea.
Every US department is working to play its part in enhancing ties. The US Defence Secretary, Lloyd Austin, while in Delhi stated, that US-India cooperation matters ‘because we all face a rapidly changing world. We see bullying and coercion from China and Russian aggression against Ukraine that seeks to redraw borders and threatens national sovereignty.’ India is a partner the US needs therefore its independent foreign policy is grudgingly accepted.
The Indian global view also matters. Speaker of the US House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, and House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries in a joint letter requesting PM Modi to address the joint sitting of the US Congress stated, ‘During your address, you will have the opportunity to share your vision for India’s future and speak of the global challenges our countries face.’ Modi will be the first Indian PM and the third world leader to have addressed the Congress for a second time.
The US will also clear the proposal for joint manufacture of GE jet engines in India. India has the financial clout and a market which cannot be ignored. Post inking of an order for 220 Boeing aircraft by Air India in Feb this year, PM Modi spoke to President Biden. President Biden, hailing the agreement stated, ‘it would support over one million American jobs across 44 states and many will not require a four-year college degree.’ The reality is that all major procurements from India provide employment within the US. The inking of the iCET (Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technologies) is aimed at strengthening bilateral cooperation in semiconductors, space, defence etc.
The US has been known to change allies and dump partners whenever it suits them. India has faced it on numerous occasions and Pakistan is experiencing it now. For India, that was a time when it lacked global clout, was financially weak and depended on global aid to support its growing population. Pakistan is in that scenario now. It is forced to grovel at the feet of the US for the IMF to open its coffers by accepting all their terms and conditions.
The India we see today is one which is rising, financially sound to pay for its procurements, possessing the ability to influence regions and has an armed force capable of making it a net security provider. It is no longer a country which can be ignored or dumped based on whims and fancies of a leader in Washington. If the US seeks to contain China for which it needs to obtain support of ASEAN and Pacific nations, then it must partner India.
There is no doubt that critics will demand Modi be questioned on his internal policies including on religious freedom. Groups like the anti-India India American Muslim Council have voiced their displeasure on Modi being invited to address the US Congress. But these are lonely voices, which will be ignored. The US needs India to help resolve ongoing challenges. The screams of Indian critics, including our own lecturing abroad, will be drowned in the din of the welcome which will be provided to a leader who represents India.