Relations haven’t always been smooth, but Washington and New Delhi are collaborating on trade and defense
“India has a lot of opportunities,” he told a jubilant crowd. “I have recently launched an initiative. I invite the whole world and everyone sitting here. I invite everyone to participate in ‘Make in India.’” It’s a plan to make development and progress a popular movement.
Modi, who is trying to strengthen relations with the U.S., will be meeting President Barack Obama for talks in Washington. Ties between India and the U.S. haven’t always been smooth, but relations have warmed over the past couple of decades.
In the 1960s India initially took a neutral stance between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, becoming one of the founding members of the Non-Aligned Movement. But in 1971, New Delhi signed the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with the Soviet Union and moved away from Washington.
There was a brief thaw in relations in the early 1990s after economic reforms by India meant to expand ties with the U.S., but that goodwill deteriorated after New Delhi announced a series of underground nuclear tests near the border with Pakistan, leading to economic sanctions from Washington.
After a private dinner with Obama on Monday, Modi plans to meet six American CEOs one on one, including Goldman Sachs’ Lloyd Blankfein and General Electric’s Jeff Immelt.
But not everyone is a Modi fan. Four months after taking office, he remains a controversial figure. Al Jazeera’s Shihab Rattansi spoke to protesters outside Madison Square Garden, who told him Modi should be treated like a criminal rather than a rock star.
Many people are upset over his handling of unrest in Gujarat state in 2002, when he was chief minister there. Anti-Muslim riots left more than 1,000 people dead, and Modi, a Hindu nationalist, was accused of doing little to stop the killing.
Also, he made controversial changes at the state level by diluting the powers of ministries and concentrating them in his office.
During Al Jazeera America’s Sunday night segment The Week Ahead, Thomas Drayton discussed U.S.-India relations with Michael Kugelman, a senior associate on Southeast Asia at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., and with Anubhav Gupta, senior program officer at the Asia Society Policy Institute.
“Both Prime Minister Modi and President Obama have an excellent opportunity to take a relationship that is already at a pretty good footing and really re-energize the relationship and take it forward for the next two years,” said Gupta.
More recently, the two nations have managed to find more common ground. They are now cooperating on defense matters, even though that necessitates a delicate balancing act for the U.S. as it tries to maintain ties with Pakistan. But in an attempt to counter India’s neighbor and rival Pakistan, Washington has given New Delhi more than $9 billion worth of defense equipment and security systems since 2001.
Kugelman says the relationship is critical from a security perspective.
“Despite all their differences and disagreements, India and the United States really see very similarly when it comes to terrorism and what to do about it.”
Kugelman said the U.S. and India feel similarly about the rise of China and its increasing clout. “I think the U.S. believes India can essentially serve as perhaps a counterbalance to China’s increasing presence and influence throughout the Asia region,” he said.
U.S.-Indian trade in goods and services is at nearly $150 billion per year. A recent study by the Confederation of Indian Industry shows that U.S. investment in India is at about $28 billion and that Indian companies have boosted employment in the U.S. by investing nearly $17 billion through 68 companies.
“This is a honeymoon period,” said Kugelman. “Modi is relatively new in power, there are still a lot of festering tensions, and we don’t really know what could happen. I think this is really meant to be symbolic more than anything else.”