Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ringing address at the US Congress this Wednesday — made notable for the repeated standing applause he received in the course of his speech — will be remembered for a long time to come. It will be remembered not only for its completeness in terms of covering the entire spectrum of India-US relations with a characteristic mix of positivity and frankness, but for the path it shows to the American leadership for building this relationship in the future. A reassuring reference to “bipartisanship” that has gone into the fostering of India’s relations with the US will go a long way in providing a lasting foundation to these, coming as it does at a time when the Americans are about to exercise their electoral choice between the Democratic and the Republican nominees.
In a stirring speech delivered in English, Modi, never repeating a word, packed it with subtle political humour, logical marshalling of facts and a worldview of things that only a leader with a global mindset could do. One cannot help thinking that this was coming from a person who had seen it all, having travelled from the humble beginning of a common man to the Prime Ministership of the largest democracy in the world and who as a true nationalist Indian had inherited the cultural legacy of understanding the “big picture” behind all that was happening in and around India. That is how he could effortlessly deal with the issues of development, equity and environment in one smooth narrative. He was at the same time unambiguous in his prognosis of the issues of global security such as terrorism and safety of maritime trade and in defining India’s stakes in finding a lasting solution of the same.
Modi built on the theme of natural friendship that marks India-US relations to highlight the notable role that over three million “proud” Indians now settled in the US as citizens had played in strengthening the India-US bonds and in building the American economic strength. He announced that the two countries had a strategic partnership that was based on a convergence of views on global commons. Spelling out all that India was doing to help out people caught in natural disasters in countries around it, pointing out how India made the largest contribution to the UN Peace Keeping Force and reiterating India’s resolve to play its role in promoting a peaceful world order, Modi used the occasion to tell the international community that in his charge India was engaged in eliminating poverty through development and giving special attention to the agrarian sector, thus dispelling the view that his regime had a limited outreach to rural India. He spoke at length on how India was the best investment destination and market for industrial and economic growth.
Prime Minister Modi seems to have succeeded in convincing the American lawmakers that India-US relationship had achieved a lasting convergence in the spheres of trade and commerce, defence and technology and security and intelligence. He spoke of the willingness of India to join hands with the US to ensure maritime security, from Indian Ocean to the Pacific, and indirectly signalled India’s firm disapproval of the Chinese designs to acquire dominance in the South China Sea. It is in relation to the sensitive geopolitical region centred on Afghanistan, however, that Modi was skilfully upfront in advocating India’s right to safeguard her strategic stakes in that country by working for a strong, democratic and peaceful Afghanistan. He came down heavily against the forces of terrorism that were using religion as its instrument and without naming Pakistan counselled the US to deal firmly with a country to India’s west that had become a breeding ground of terrorism. He named LeT, Taliban and ISIS as the organisations against whom punitive action was called for and repeated what he had said at the recent Nuclear Security Summit at Washington—that no distinction should be made between “good terrorists” and “bad terrorists” anymore. India now waits for the Afghan reality check to put a corrective on the tilt that the US policymakers had shown so far towards Pakistan on the issue of cross border terrorism facing India.
The US visit of Prime Minister Modi has installed him firmly as a global leader and established India’s claim to be on the UN high table of the Security Council. Having achieved entry into the MTCR it should be sooner than later that India would get into the NSG as well. India certainly is trusted for its record against proliferation and the irresponsibly offensive statement of Dr A.Q. Khan—father of the Pakistan nuclear programme who is close to army establishment—to the effect that it would take five minutes for Pakistan to nuke Delhi, would go a long way in decisively turning world opinion in favour of India on nuclear issues. There is a new grid of understanding between India and US built over the two years of Modi regime and this is bound to help both India’s development and security strategies. Modi put it all in a remarkable phrase saying that India and US had tuned in their joint orchestra and were now poised to create a new symphony.
D.C. Pathak is a former Director, Intelligence Bureau