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Modi's New Mantra of "Chalein Saath Saath" Successfull ?

Published: 02nd October 2014 01:37 AM  |   Last Updated: 02nd October 2014 01:37 AM   |  A+A-

WASHINGTON: At the end of over 35 engagements, including 3 close encounters between Indian prime minister and US president, a desire for an intimate, strategic embrace is distinctly discernible - a likelihood to set off alarm bells in Beijing and Islamabad.

While security-wise India and US have really gone the further step in this visit - but on defence and trade issues, there is still not as much exuberance.

After spending about 26 hours in world's most powerful capital city, Modi was wheels-up on Air India 1 that flew from Andrews air force base at about 7 pm. Tuesday  bringing the curtains on his most important diplomatic outreach since taking becoming PM four months ago.

The bitter period of last December, when two countries were recriminating each other over the treatment of Indian diplomat, is not a hindrance any more. The speculation about the lingering impact of visa ban on Modi could hang over US-India ties, is now over. The US trip was his final victory lap for winning the elections and bringing his party to majority.

For the first time, India gave a new terminology to United States - a "principal partner", a carefully-chosen aspirational term.

"Prime Minister Modi emphasized the priority India accords to its partnership with the United States, a principal partner in the realization of India’s rise as a responsible, influential world power," said the India-US joint statement issued on Monday evening. In turn, Obama recognised that "india's rise as a friend and partner is in the United States's interest".

The joint statement is about the nuts and bolts - economic, finance, trade, energy, climate change, education, defence, science and strategic issues - which require to bring together the two countries closer. This is normal diplomatic practice.

But, it is the vision statement - with its new mantra of "chalein saath saath" translated awkwardly into "Forward together we go" - which spelled out the big picture, and added the layer of historicity to this visit.

"If it had only been the joint statement, it may not have been enough. But, the vision statement is what tells us about the big picture, the strategic direction," said Brookings Institution's Tanvi Madan. And the main takeaway is that there is an ambition to do more outside the bilateral realm - in other regions and continents.

For China, whose president Xi Jinping was in India for a visit just a week before the visit, there is plenty in the joint statement to raise eyebrows. At least 3 big paras in the strategic sub-section  could be directly linked to the anxiety over the rise of China among its Asian neigbhours and the flaring up of disputes in South China sea.

Modi and Obama "reaffirmed their shared interest in preserving regional peace and stability" in Asia Pacific. 

"The leaders expressed concern about rising tensions over maritime territorial disputes, and affirmed the importance of safeguarding maritime security and ensuring freedom of navigation and over flight throughout the region, especially in the South China Sea," said the joint statement.

In a not-so-subtle jibe at Beijing, India and US called on "all parties to avoid the use, or threat of use, of force in advancing their claims." Both Vietnam and the Philippines have complained about China's increasing aggressive stance - from bringing in an oil rig to 'island-making' and muscular patrolling in the region.

Both urged the "concerned parties" to pursue a solution through peaceful means and in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. This has, of course been India's traditional position - but it is against China's claim that its historical claims supersedes international law.

Incidentally, both countries also committed to "to work more closely with other Asia Pacific countries through consultations, dialogues, and joint exercises" as part of India's Look East and US's Asia pivot.

Besides, the joint statement also repeated an aspiration made during Modi's visit to Tokyo - to explore the upgradation of trilateral India-US-Japan dialogue from officials to foreign minister-level. In fact, an important part of the trilateral agenda is regional connectivity between India and its south-east asian neighbours, which also gets a paragraph in the joint statement.

Beijing would certainly interpret this as a nascent step to build up an anti-China coalition. It remains to be seen how much the troops stand-off had a role, if at all, in tipping over India onto the US side.

Along with China, Pakistan will also much to be unhappy about. For the first time, there was explicit language about "joint and concerted efforts which include the dismantling of safe havens for terrorist and criminal networks, to disrupt all financial and tactical support for networks such as Al Qaeda, Lashkar-e Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, the D-Company, and the Haqqanis."

All of them are based in Pakistan and have been used at various times as proxy by Pakistani establishment to target Indian assets in India and Afghanistan. But, there was no talk of fostering talks between India and Pakistan. 

Then, US also talked of increased coordination with India in Afghanistan - an old bugbear for Pakistan army establishment.

"It is actually rather interesting how little Pakistan has featured in India-US relations. Even Modi also spoke just four lines in the UN. It was clever of him not to get bogged down," said Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's Milan Vaishnav.

Just before the visit, US approved the sale of mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles to Pakistan. Now, India and US are "exploring" the purchase for MRAPs, again for first time.

While officials said India is not joining the anti-US ISIL coalition cobbled together by US, India has agreed to exchange list of nationals who have returned from the conflict zone. Also significantly, both will keep each other informed about citizens who get caught up in conflict zone. This will be especially helpful as 41 Indian captives remain in Mosul, as the anti-ISIL coalition begins airstrikes.

On the defence side, Naval Malabar exercises will be upgraded and US will be the knowledge partner for the National Defence University. But, the expectation of announcement of a big-ticket co-production like Javelin did not take place. Instead, both have set up a task force under the Defence trade and technology initiative to decide on unique projects - a la Brahmos.

The reset of United States and India relations is in process - the levers, screws and cranks are have in put in place, but its requires regular high-level supervision for a smooth operation. 

"It is a good joint statement. But a lot of hard work is needed now to implement it and more importantly, focussed political leadership," said Madan 

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