US president Barack Obama’s second visit to India and the first since Narendra Modi became prime minister would be remembered for long for the good humour and bonhomie he exuded. There are some state visits that go beyond mere symbolism and this one certainly belongs to that category. The visit has helped redefine the relationship between the two largest democracies and brought about a qualitative change in the nature of their engagement. That the US president could be invited as the chief guest at the Republic Day parade and that he could accept it were almost unthinkable until eight months ago. Modi alone could have thought of it and choreographed the visit that did him proud.
As someone pointed out, Obama had never sat for so long as when he sat with Modi and watched the colourful parade that showcased India’s military might and cultural diversity and greatness. That is why the significance of the visit should not be measured in terms of the deals struck alone, although the agreements reached were not insignificant. The single most important message that the visit imparted was their readiness to recognise that they pursued common goals while having different national and global interests. In other words, India and the US would pursue policies that would fulfil common objectives without sacrificing their own individual goals.
Hopefully, the deals will ensure US investments would flow into the nuclear energy development sector and defence co-production. The agreement has certainly broken the logjam but it doesn’t guarantee commercialisation in the form of US companies setting up shop in India. Washington will have to take a lot of follow-up action before American nuclear companies are persuaded to address India’s energy needs. Also, its defence firms, long used to selling their products in a take-it-or-leave-it manner, have to reconcile themselves to sharing technologies with India. On his part, Modi must live up to his promise of making India an easier country to do business with.