Fahad Ali comments on Indian PM’s visit to America
Modi in DC – The hospitality received by Narendra Modi in America again brings to fore the crucial inevitability of geopolitics in bilateral relations between the states. This inevitability cannot be denied by either brushing it under the carpet or issuing hollow philippic and considering it an adequate replacement for policy failures and faulty track record. Narendra Modi who was declared persona non grata in America after his alleged complicity in anti-Muslim Gujarat pogrom has bounced back to the American favour as his huge welcome in DC portrayed. Modi is being feted with the pomp of a state visit, only the third of Biden’s presidency, with two dinners — one intimate and one gala in a calculated show of full-throated US support despite quiet unease over India’s refusal to break with Russia and what rights groups see as growing authoritarianism by the Hindu nationalist leader who is rated to be India’s strongest leader in decades. However all was not hunky-dory as protesters outside reminded that the Indian government espoused a far-right Hindu extremist ideology which has created a hostile environment for the country’s minorities, especially Muslims. Trucks with banners urging President Biden to question India’s human rights record drove around New York.
It must be borne in mind by the policy makers that the intense impact of realpolitik heal all wounds and morality can quickly be dispensed with when needed in international relations. What took place while Modi was there is yet another reminder of this stark reality that never fades away. He was profusely feted on his sojourn to America with the ties between US and India described as one of the defining relationships of the 21st century and his reception at the US Congress was no less than of a superstar. Intriguingly however, a handful of members of the Democratic Party could not ignore their conscience and boycotted his address slating his horrendous track record on human rights while prominent press freedom groups collectively highlighted media restrictions in India.
President Joe Biden hailed a defining partnership with India sealing major defence and technology deals as Washington bets big on New Delhi as a counterweight to China along with providing him the opportunity of meeting with top CEOs and a long list of concrete takeaways including agreements on US engines for India’s new home-grown fighter-jets and a major semiconductor factory. It should be more than obvious that the geopolitical reasons for the US to court India are myriad as the emergence of India as the economic dynamo of Asia has sharply altered the position. There is no denying the fact that while economies across the globe particularly the developed world stagnate, India’s growth rate is not only stable but is growing exponentially. It is not surprising therefore that America is keen to tap India’s massive market and is inducing its leading entrepreneurs to invest in India. It is also keen to increase its share of the Indian defence market and is more than willing to share its cutting-edge technological advantage.
Washington hopes a tighter defence relationship will help wean India off Russia, New Delhi’s primary military supplier during the Cold War. India has refused to join Western efforts to isolate Russia over its invasion of Ukraine and instead has seized on the crisis to buy discounted Russian oil. Modi has also been facing growing criticism for the treatment of religious minorities, the opposition, and independent media, with the State Department pointing to police and vigilante violence against Muslims and Christians. Biden touched lightly on concerns, telling Modi that religious pluralism was among core principles for both the United States and India even as they have faced challenges throughout each of our nations’ histories. Modi replied that both nations take pride in their diversity but this assertion certainly did not satisfy his critics in the US Congress who protested that the US Congress should not invite leaders with deeply troubling human rights records and would boycott his address to show support for pluralism, tolerance and freedom of the press. Dozens of other Democrats in a letter urged Biden to raise concerns in an honest and forthright way although they stopped short of boycotting and backed closer ties with India.
In one of the biggest agreements of the visit the United States signed off on a technology transfer for engines as India begins producing homegrown fighter jets. General Electric will have the green light to produce its F414 engines jointly with state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics along with India also buying MQ-9B SeaGuardians, high-precision armed drones. In another agreement, US chip giant Micron will invest $800 million in a semiconductor assembly and testing plant in India which is expected to reach $2.75 billion after contributions from New Delhi. The plant would help diversify supply chains of advanced semiconductors as Biden leads a concerted effort to deny exports of top-end chips to China. India, a growing power in space, also agreed during Modi’s visit to join the Artemis Accords, a US-led multinational effort to put a human back on the Moon by 2025. As part of the cooperation, India’s space programme will work with NASA on a joint mission to the International Space Station next year.
Amazon and Google are the latest companies to announce massive investment plans in India with Amazon announcing that it will take its investments in India to $26 billion by 2030 adding $6.5bn in new planned investments. The e-commerce giant’s announced investment during Modi’s trip adds to other companies including US semiconductor toolmaker Applied Materials and memory chip firm Micron Technology which have made commitments. Separately, Google will open a global fintech operation centre at GIFT City in India’s western state of Gujarat with teams working on operations supporting its payment service GPay and other product operations at Google.
In an apparent bid to use the visit to further India’s agenda against Islamabad, a joint statement issued by the two heads of state also called on Pakistan to crack down on extremists that targeted New Delhi. The statement called for action against extremist groups based in Pakistan such as the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad. Interestingly, earlier the Biden administration had assured Islamabad that Washington still wanted a stable and prosperous Pakistan. It added that the US regularly engages with Pakistani officials as it is critical to their ultimate goal of ensuring stability and security of Pakistan. Pakistan reacted very strongly to the joint communiqué.
The Biden administration also plans to make it easier for Indians to live and work in the United States, using this week’s state visit by Modi to help some skilled workers enter or remain in the country. The State Department plans that a small number of Indians and other foreign workers on H-1B visas will be able to renew those visas in the US without having to travel abroad. Indian citizens are by far the most active users of the US H-1B program and made up 73 per cent of the nearly 442,000 H-1B workers in fiscal year 2022. Each year, the US government makes 65,000 H-1B visas available to companies seeking skilled foreign workers and 20,000 visas for workers with advanced degrees. The visas last for three years and can be renewed for another three years. The companies using the most H-1B workers in recent years include the Indian-based Infosys and Tata Consultancy Services as well as Amazon, Alphabet and Meta in the US. The Weekender