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Obama means business with India

, January 26, 2015, 0 Comments

obama india-MarketExpress-inA boisterous crowd met Barack Obama when he arrived to watch India’s Republic Day parade in New Delhi on Monday – making history as the first US President to watch the display of military might as chief guest.

Thousands of people trudged kilometers through the rain and queued for hours to watch the parade along Rajpath and past India Gate, amid heightened security and a transport shutdown in the area.

Many came to catch a glimpse of Obama and his wife Michelle, including Deepak Bhargav. “I also want to see the new tanks, missiles and plane,” the 45-year-old businessman said. Bhargav was enthusiastic about India’s relationship with the US, saying American companies coming to India, “means more employment for Indians.”

Hari Om travelled all the way from East Indian state of Bihar so his children Suresh and Karan could see the parade. The 48-year-old wasn’t sure how important the US was for India but thought it was good Obama was there. “It is good for India, Obama is a big man,” he said.

Both leaders spoke with optimism after an initial round of bilateral talks. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said there was “new excitement and energy” in the relationship, which “stands at a new level.” He promised “a new thrust” on ties with more frequent summits and a new hotline between the Indian PM and his US counterpart.

Reaching out

The first US President to visit India twice, Obama said deepening ties with India was “a top foreign policy priority for my administration” while a new ” Declaration of Friendship elevates” the relationship even further.

Both parties announced a new joint strategic vision for the Asia Pacific and Indian Ocean, expanded cooperation on defense and counter terrorism, committed to resume talks for a Bilateral Investment Treaty, and said the pact to enable US companies to supply India with civilian nuclear technology was finally moving to commercial cooperation after a 6-year impasse.

Obama also threw his support behind India getting a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and becoming a full member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, and both leaders said they would work together for a successful agreement at climate talks in Paris later this year.

Turning point

Obama’s invitation to Republic Day is seen as a significant strengthening of US-India relations that many did not expect under India’s Hindu nationalist Prime Minister – who swept to power in a landslide election last May promising to boost India’s GDP growth from 4.5 percent to over 7 percent. Before his election Modi was effectively barred from the US, denied a visa over allegations he didn’t do enough to stop religious riots when he ruled the state of Gujarat in 2002.

The turning point for the relationship came when Modi visited Washington in September. Both leaders said it was “time to set a new agenda” for ties and committed to increase trade fivefold to $500 billion.

The warming relationship comes after several setbacks in recent years. Not least the arrest and strip-search of an Indian diplomat in New York on suspected visa fraud that triggered outrage in India months before Modi came to power. The civil nuclear logjam and slow pace of change had also left many frustrated, including US Senator John McCain who said the relationship too often felt like “a laundry list of initiatives that amounts to no more than the sum of its parts.”

Action speaks louder than words

Analysts say both governments now have to work hard to turn the “renewed energy” into concrete results. “The two governments have to get their act together and need to sort out bottlenecks to create a conducive framework for enabling business,” Soutik Biswas, senior fellow at New Delhi’s Observer Research Foundation, told DW.

Rick Rossow, chair of US-India Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said a high standard investment treaty had potential to “bring American infrastructure investors back to India, which is a real focus of the Modi government.” The relationship, he told DW, needed to be nurtured by both sides to ensure “practical action.”

The President’s visit ends on Tuesday after he gives a speech at Siri Fort auditorium. He’ll then fly to Saudi Arabia, having cut the visit short to pay his respects to the family of the late King Abdullah.