I was in the US when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the country recently. I followed his speech addressing the joint session of the US Congress, an infrequent honour rarely granted even to some of the United States’ closest allies.
The speech was full of emotion and laudatory remarks to the US and its institutions. The PM called the US Congress the “temple of democracy”, and he is right. The US may be a young nation, but it is the oldest modern democracy. It was a special moment for those of us who greatly admire both countries, from the world’s largest democracy, which happens to be one of the planet’s oldest civilisations, to a young nation with the longest democratic tradition in contemporary history. I wish to underline the quotations of Swami Vivekananda at the “The Parliament of Religions” held in Chicago in 1893, probably one of the most inspired speeches in the last 150 years.
The two countries have come a long way in their ties, from the antagonism and suspicion of the Cold War, India’s leading role in the Non-Aligned Movement and its Third-world-ist utopia, to tensions over India’s nuclear capabilities, or the more recent gaffes like the US denying Modi a visa when he was Gujarat CM. But reality is stubborn and India has become a global player. Gone are the days when it was considered only a poor demographic super power. Today India is not only a military power, but also a technological powerhouse, an inextinguishable source of scientific talent and innovation, a master of soft power with Bollywood, yoga and spirituality topping the list, and a civilisational prodigy. Above all, it is a geopolitical player in the planet’s Champion’s League. India is no longer perceived as the buffer to contain other powers or a potential proxy to serve some other power’s interests. Not to mention its healthy economic growth, the highest among leading economies.
All of the above has been ratified by the quantum leap of US-India relations and the fact that PM Modi and President Obama have met on seven occasions since the PM was elected—an impressive track record.
The world today is full of uncertainties and threats, terrorism, political instability, high and low intensity wars, growing disaffection for democratic values and institutions in some countries, and the parallel rise of extreme left and extreme right populism, and of the dramatic recession that has smashed the middle classes and economies. In this context, India has a major role to play, as a stabilising force and a responsible world leader.
Foreign policy has traditionally been all about defending national interests. That should not change, but an unstable environment is the reason why the world’s most important actors have to act under the inspiration of democratic values, fuelled by the quest for stability and peace.
The challenges remain, and need to be addressed. This column is not about self-indulgence; it’s an effort to highlight how the country’s image has evolved in the last 10 years, and why there is warmth and respect for India as a global player, which is here to stay. This is clearly visible in the way the PM was received in Washington, with India being dubbed a strategic partner, and the Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia, Nisha Desai Biswal, calling the new partnership the Modi Doctrine: “A foreign policy that overcomes the hesitations of history and embraces the convergence between our two countries and our shared interests.”
Nonetheless, the balance remains complicated. When the US government and the Senate moved to make India a strategic partner, the initiative was blocked by a Senator and regretted both by the State Department and a warm official statement by Senator McCain. This is also reflected by the recent defeat in the US Congress of two legislative amendments to reduce US aid to Pakistan from $900 million to $700 million, just days after the US Congress failed to make India a strategic partner. The main international actors should not feel uneasy because of India’s growing influence, we should all actually feel reassured that a huge and vibrant democracy is claiming its rightful place in the world. firstname.lastname@example.org
Gustavo De Aristegui Former Spanish ambassador to India