Obama's three-day trip showed warm relations between the U.S. and India
U.S. president is the first to visit India twice, a fact likely to be noted by the Indian public
Could tour help change India's insular thinking when it comes to foreign policy?
Every year, India’s Republic Day parade showcases the country’s military might and the diversity of its states. This year it went a step further, turning into an occasion that emphasized the warmer relationship between the world’s two biggest democracies, India and the United States.
U.S. President Barack Obama became the first American chief guest at the parade. Not only did he have to endure two hours of a cold Delhi morning drizzle – albeit in a glass box – he also may have noticed how much of India’s military hardware was of Russian – and not American – vintage.
But most Indians will focus on the fact that Obama is the first sitting American president to visit India twice. They will remember the many images of Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi shaking hands and exchanging a warm embrace on the airport tarmac and at their first joint press conference in the world’s glare.
The Indian media has dubbed it a “bromance,” evidence of the chemistry that aides on both sides have been at pains to point out for months.
It seems like an eternity since the former leader of the Indian state of Gujarat was persona non grata in the U.S.
What was gained?
And so the biggest takeaway from Obama’s three days in India was the symbolism of the leaders of the world’s two biggest democracies cozying up.
But others would have seen greater geopolitical implications. As Obama watched the Republic Day parade, Beijing welcomed Pakistan’s army chief General Raheel Sharif for talks. Unlike Obama’s previous India visit in 2010, Pakistan was not a focus – at least in public statements. Instead, India seems to be positioning itself for a more global role, playing a part in issues that go beyond its borders.
There were some other tangible takeaways from the summit too – though the exact details were a little fuzzy. Modi announced progress had been made on negotiations over a civil nuclear deal – a new 10-year defense cooperation agreement between the two countries was announced – which may have far-reaching consequences for both sides on sharing intelligence and military education, and there was much talk about boosting bilateral trade from its current level of around $100 billion a year to $500 billion by 2025.
As with most summits between world leaders, what goes on behind the scenes before and after is probably more important – at least in terms of detail.
But let’s give symbolism its moment and its due. For millions of Indians who watched the events of the last three days – and given the intense media coverage in India it would have been impossible to miss – they will now slowly reassess their sense of India’s place in the world.
Maybe that will help broaden India’s historically insular foreign policy thinking. Maybe it will make India a more prominent player in global issues, over time. And maybe, just maybe, India and the U.S. may move a little closer to forming the “defining partnership” that Obama first promised in 2010.