Obama-Modi friendship a budding legacy

The personal rapport between a two-term US President and a Prime Minister of India, newly minted, in his first year in office, was indeed heart-warming to witness. This still youthful US President has long battled the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, but is now, at last, witnessing 5 per cent Growth, a profound uptick in a $ 20 trillion economy, but only in the last quarter. In the interim, Barack Obama has also reached his sixth year in office, out of the maximum of eight allocated to any US President by law. But America is back on its feet, when Europe is still not exactly well.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, leader of his nation with the first full majority in 30 years, is also on a transformational journey for India, and looks at least ten years into the future. The two men, different as they are, do have a lot in common.

The pace at which this rapprochement between the two leaders has come about, over just eight months since Modi took over, signals the dawn of a new era in the relationship, and is far greater than just the good chemistry between them.

There is no doubt that Obama's two-and-a-half-day visit to New Delhi over India's Republic Day weekend and the Tuesday following, illustrates the broad bipartisan support in the US for a rapprochement and upgradation of the bilateral relationship.

It is not easy for those who don't want to accept its significance to effectively downplay it. But, Presidents in office do not have the luxury of making wholly empty gestures, or using their considerable state apparatus to do something vacuous. And then, this was an unprecedented second trip to India. One to accommodate which the State of the Union Address, one of the most important fixtures in the presidential calendar, was preponed.

The fact is, bipartisan US policy has changed. The US has decided to help India become technologically developed and more prosperous. It is being promoted into a bigger league. The US will champion India's entry into APEC, currently dominated by China. The problem, of course, is that India is indeed five times smaller economically than China, and nowhere near as powerful militarily. But the US may be moving to find solutions for this too. It has promised to help fast track India's jet engine and aircraft carrier building propensities, among other initiatives in solar and nuclear directions.

India has long been a nuclear power, but it will now operationalise its ten-year-old intended cooperation with the US. It may also be invited to join the NSG, citing a strong non-proliferation record. So, not only is India slated to enter the most powerful of the regional forums, but also the globally exclusive NSG that is the key formulator and arbiter of nuclear doctrine in the world.
The recent economic recovery in the US may be what earned Obama his feistiness in his latest State of the Union Address, undertaken just six days before his trip to India. President Obama asked the Republicans, who now control Congress, to have a care for the poor and the needy, in a sentiment that Modi fully emphatises with.

Obama is building his legacy now, as is traditional, and opening up to Cuba was another move in this direction, that the Republicans can oppose only at their peril.

There is a lot of internal criticism in America, the richest nation on earth, owned largely by just 1 per cent of its population, where it is still very difficult for millions of the underprivileged to live on 'minimum wage' . Obama made bold to point out such things to the Republicans, who could, after all, win the next election in 2016, especially if the public wants change after eight years of Democrat rule.

Obama may be technically a 'lame-duck', but paradoxically, his nation is stronger today, economically speaking, than when he began his first term, six years ago. The Federal Reserve Bank of America has stopped its quantitative easing to the tune of $ 85 billion per month, tapering it off gradually, and may soon start raising interest rates from zero. The US Dollar too has been stabilised.

Obama has, in addition, achieved many milestones, stopped wars, brought Osama bin Laden to justice, presided over oil self-sufficiency, to name just three momentous developments. He has, of course, broken the mould for Presidents of the US, being the first African-American to win the Office. The US could now perhaps see a female President before long.

Obama has also instituted a health care and insurance system that includes the poor for the first time. This, against stiff opposition from the hospital and pharmaceutical lobbies, even though healthcare in the US is very expensive, and a very large proportion of the poor could not, before 'Obamacare', afford any health insurance at all.

Modi and Obama have quickly become friends, recognising in each other agents of change in the fates of their respective nations, and their altering place in a new world order.

Courtesy Niti Central

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