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Doubting Thomases Forced into Hiding as PM Sets Tone for Enhanced Ties with Biden-Harris

Vice President Kamala Harris referred to the synergies, common challenges and the democratic principles that both sides cherish, writes Vishnu Prakash.(Twitter/@narendramodi)

Vice President Kamala Harris referred to the synergies, common challenges and the democratic principles that both sides cherish, writes Vishnu Prakash.(Twitter/@narendramodi)

At UN, Prime Minister Modi noted how the international body was becoming less relevant and less effective because of its unrepresentative character.

The event-packed visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Washington and New York has set the tone for an enhanced bilateral partnership during the Biden-Harris era. Doubting Thomases whose cadre remains undepleted have been forced into hiding yet again. The American President was forthright in observing that our ties were “destined to be stronger, closer, and tighter… (and that) a new chapter” was being launched. A series of high-level interactions, across the spectrum, which have already been slated, would see the contours emerge.

Prime Minister’s interaction with the President and Vice President was most productive with the leaders focusing on the big picture without getting distracted by minor niggles. The conversation was marked by mutual admiration and bonhomie, anchored on the awareness and comfort of similarity of values and purpose.

Both the American dignitaries were nostalgic about their Indian association or roots. President Biden referred to the Vice President’s Indian mother, a scientist, as “a remarkable woman”. In her effusive remarks both in public and during the delegation-level talks, Vice President Kamala Harris referred to the synergies, common challenges and the democratic principles that both sides cherish.

There was genuine appreciation for India’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and her readiness to resume supplies of vaccine as well as the effective steps taken by India in cutting greenhouse gas emissions by establishing 96.96 GW of renewable energy capacity (25.2 per cent of the total capacity) by July 2021 and targeting 450 GW of installed renewable energy capacity by 2030. Prime Minister’s evocation of Mahatma Gandhi’s doctrine of trusteeship and belief that “we all are trustees of the planet with a duty of caring for it” found a hearty resonance.

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The US has become India’s most important partner in every respect. If the preceding decade saw the defence and security component gaining salience in the relationship, critical and cutting-edge technological cooperation promises to be the new buzzword in the years ahead.

Having got a taste of Pakistan’s perfidy, in nurturing, arming and funding the Taliban while posturing otherwise, there appears to be some rethink in Washington on dealing with Islamabad. Kamala Harris actually noted Pakistan’s role in fomenting terrorism, agreed that India was a victim of cross-border terrorism and asked Pakistan to take action against these groups.

In addition, the Quad leaders’ summit and address at the UN General Assembly were high on PM’s agenda. It is beyond belief that Quad leaders’ in-person summit actually materialized within two years of the first Quad foreign ministers meeting in New York. Though unstated, the raison d’etre of Quad is maritime security. The China factor figured prominently in the discussion. The leaders were particularly concerned at China taking advantage of open societies to acquire critical technologies by all possible means.

Straight Talk on UN Reforms

The Prime Minister did some straight talking at the United Nations. He highlighted India’s constructive role and contribution in spurring global growth, enabling vaccine equity and promoting international peace and stability.
He contrasted it with the damage the global governance institutions had done to their credibility in “context of the origin of COVID and with regard to Ease of Doing Business rankings”. It is well-known that China misused its veto power to block any discussion on the biggest crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic since the Second World War. It now transpires that the World Bank ‘creatively’ retained China’s ranking in ease of doing business, despite slipping on many parameters, to keep it in good humour.

The Prime Minister also emphasised that oceans were the common heritage of mankind and called for safeguarding them from the “race of expansion and exclusion” (again a reference to China). He went on to warn countries (read Pakistan especially) that are “using terrorism as a political tool — to understand that terrorism is an equally big threat to them”.

The Prime Minister subtly but lucidly noted that the UN was gradually becoming less relevant and less effective because of its unrepresentative character. It continues to reflect the politico-economic power structure post the Second World War. In a similar refrain, he had stated in his address last year that “people of India have been waiting for a long time for the completion of the reforms of the United Nations—(they are concerned) whether this reform-process will ever reach its logical conclusion? For how long will India be kept out of the decision-making structures of the United Nations?”

Unfortunately, quite a few naysayers in the comity of nations continue to hear but not listen. Political rivalry, one-upmanship, turf protection and short-sightedness have led to a virtual stalemate, with negotiations on UN reforms moving at a snail’s pace if it all. As a result, powerful nations are fabricating their own rules of engagement while the majority of the member states look askance.

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Time to Take India-US Ties to Next Level

Finally, given the geopolitical dynamics and India’s growing external challenges we need to ask some hard questions. Are we spoilt for choices? New cold war or not, it is evident that the US-led world order, with all its aberrations, is facing an unprecedented military, technological and economic challenge from a China-centric construct that our expansionist and secretive neighbour is seeking to impose. The latter is willing at best to allow a subordinate position to India which is obviously a non-starter.

True the US is transactional (who is not!) and tends to get unilateralist even with allies; true the US is no longer the formidable economic and military power that it was at the turn of the century; true there is an emerging proclivity in the US to look inwards, yet as they say—better the devil you know than the devil you don’t!

The United States is and will remain for the foreseeable future the preeminent economic, technological and military power. It leads the world in innovation and info-tech, and also has demonstrated the capability of reinventing itself.

We have a similar value system as the US; speak a common language; have a broad convergence of outlook and now have an influential Indian-American diaspora. Since 2000, the US has stood by us while China has systematically undermined our interests. It is about time to make a strategic call to invest more and elevate the partnership with the US, which is as willing, to a new level.

The PM cited Chanakya to drive home the imperative of induction of India as a permanent member of the UNSC at the earliest—Kalatikramat kaal and phalampibatti (When the right work is not done at the right time, time itself destroys the success of that work). This applies as much to further solidifying India-US partnership.

The author is Former Envoy to South Korea and Canada and Official Spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.

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first published:September 28, 2021, 09:00 IST