Since 1947 the Indian bureaucracy has acted as a brake on change, except in those instances where their already bloated powers rose as a consequence of the decisions taken by successive Prime Ministers. In the decades since, this aversion to change has stifled many an initiative, and prevented the country from reaping the benefits of geopolitical tailwinds. India missed the opportunity to align with ASEAN, for example, even while other opportunities were lost because of delays in response. Confidence is a quality found in abundance in Narendra Damodardas Modi. This has ensured that he has been able to break free of the straitjacket placed around the country’s leadership in dealings with the United States, which for a generation more will remain the pre-eminent power on the globe. In the past, Prime Minister Narasimha Rao had sought a de facto alliance with Washington, but this opportunity for a partnership was lost because of the conditions imposed by US President Bill Clinton, who wanted India to renounce both Kashmir as well as its nuclear and missile defences before he would respond to the overtures made by Rao. Later, in 2001, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee offered India’s assistance in battling the Taliban, but was spurned by President George W. Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney, the argument being that the location of Pakistan made it crucial in any battle with the Taliban, and Islamabad would refuse to cooperate were Delhi’s offer of an effective alliance against Wahhabi terror to be accepted. This was nonsense, for Pakistan had little choice except to go along with the US, even if Bush and Cheney had brought along Vajpayee as a partner. In 2003, it was Vajpayee who missed the opportunity for an alliance, by rejecting the Bush request that a division of the Indian Army be stationed in the Kurdish part of Iraq.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi early on recognised the importance of the US to his plans at ensuring that India graduate to the global Top Three. Although Washington had denied a visa to the then Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi refused to allow the slight to colour his views. Instead, early into his term, the Prime Minister visited New York and Washington, in the process setting a record for attendance at a political rally within the confines of the Madison Square Garden in New York. The spectacle of thousands upon thousands of citizens cheering Modi removed any hesitation towards him that there had been in the Obama administration, which from then onwards has been very respectful and cordial towards Prime Minister Modi. Since that initial meeting in 2014, there have been six more summits between the heads of government of the two largest democracies in the world, and over the course of these, Modi has shattered the Cold War hesitations of the bureaucracy and ensured that the two countries form an alliance to meet 21st century threats and take advantage of global opportunities. It has to be said to the credit of President Obama that he has had similar success with his own sceptical (and often Pakistan or China-leaning) bureaucracy.
Although such essentials as the three Foundation Defense Agreements have yet to be signed, by now it is clear that officials can at worst only delay Prime Minister Modi, but lack the force to deny him his wishes. Hence it is expected that these and other agreements will be initialled this year itself. The success of his latest visit to the US is a harbinger of the fact that India has moved beyond the confines of the Cold War, as has Washington. Indeed, a job superbly done, Prime Minister.