This weekend, when you're catching up on sleep or heading off for a weekend break, a small army of people are going to be working 24/7 to make sure Monday's summit meeting between two of the world's most powerful leaders goes off flawlessly. That doesn't just include the thousands of government staff organising President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi's roadshow in Gujarat, or the security staff who have the gargantuan job of making sure the unthinkable remains exactly that. Trade negotiators, defence experts, diplomats, politicians and intelligence officials are all going to burning the midnight oil, until the moment Air Force One touches down on Monday.
1. BACKSTAGE: THE NUTS AND BOLTS OF A PERFECT SUMMIT MEETING
- Long before President Trump lands in Ahmedabad on Monday, hundreds of Secret Service Agents began working with India's Intelligence Bureau and the Special Protection Group to make sure both he and Prime Minister Modi will be secure through the course of their two-day summit—no small challenge when they'll be appearing before almost-impossible-to-police crowds of hundreds of thousands.
- In addition to the specially-modified Boeing 747 Trump will be flying on, he'll be bringing with him a car capable to withstanding explosive blasts—and top-secret communications equipment that can even let him unleash America's nuclear arsenal remotely.
- Through Monday and Tuesday, we'll be casting light on the backroom boys who've put together the perfect summit—a cast of characters including spies and hospitality workers, hospitality workers and diplomats, who've worked to make this summit work.
2. THE ECONOMY: EXPECT NEGOTIATIONS TO BEGIN ON A COMPREHENSIVE ECONOMIC PARTNERSHIP AGREEMENT
- The bedrock of the India-United States relationship, ever since it began to flower in the late-1980s, has been the economy—but, in recent years, protectionism in the United States and the slowdown in India have raised questions on its future.
- The bad news is that India and the US won't be signing the limited Free Trade Agreement many had hoped for. They've chosen, instead, to work on something far bigger: a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, that will encompass not just duty-free trade of merchandise, but also free movement of professionals and easier investment norms.
- The deal will take time of hammer out, because of its enormous complexity, but when it's done, it should be a game-changer.
Don't miss: Parikshit Luthra's special reports on the India-US economic negotiations.
3. DEFENCE: 8-10 BIG DEALS LIKELY TO FIRM UP, HELPING TO GROW THE INDIA-US PARTNERSHIP
- From the early 2000s, the United States has emerged as India's second-largest defence supplier. This visit will see the firming up of 8-10 major acquisition decisions, worth around $10 billion—among them, the $2.6bn. acquisition of 24 MH60 helicopters for the navy, and 6 AH64E Apache attack helicopters valued at $795 million.
- There will also be negotiations on the acquisition of the NASAMS air-defence system, part of a three-tier ring to guard our cities, and the P8I long-range maritime surveillance aircraft.
- The United States will also push for India to purchase its F21 combat jets. There are tensions in the relationship: the US hasn't been as willing to part with technology for India's indigenous defence industry as New Delhi hopes, while Washington is irked by New Delhi's purchase of the S-400 air-defence system from Russia.
- But the two sides have shown the ability to overcome differences in the past—laying the foundations for a defence relationship critical to shaping Asia's future security.
Don't miss: Defence analyst Abijnan Rej's analysis of the India-US defence relationship, and its dramatic growth.
4. ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM: WILL MODI AND TRUMP FIND MIDDLE-GROUND ON KASHMIR, AFGHANISTAN AND PAKISTAN?
- Last month, President Trump set alarm bells ringing in New Delhi's strategic establishment when he said he was negotiating borders, and a future course of action on Kashmir, with Pakistan's prime minister, Imran Khan.
- He's irked New Delhi in the past by offering to mediate on Kashmir—an absolute no-no for India, which insists the conflict is a bilateral matter to be resolved with Pakistan.
- That isn't all: Trump's peace deal with the Taliban holds out the prospect that the jihadist organisation, closely-linked to Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, could soon wield significant power in Afghanistan.
- For New Delhi, all this raises the nightmare prospect of a Pakistan Army more assertive in using its jihadist proxies against India. Behind closed doors, the two leaders will be discussing this complex geo-political jigsaw puzzle, trying to find middle-ground.
5. ENDURING GAINS: THE ORDINARY INDIANS WHO'VE POWERED THE INDIA-US RELATIONSHIP, AND WHY THEY NEED THIS SUMMIT
- Late in the nineteenth century, when the first Indian immigrants arrived in the United States as agricultural workers hoping for better lives, they could never have imagined where the community stands today.
- Indians are now the second-largest foreign-born ethnic group in the United States, after Mexicans—and solidly represented at the top of its structure of power, including the economy, government, academia and politics.
- Even though United States-born and Indian-born Americans together make up just 1% of the country's population, too small a community to be of direct electoral significance, their influence gives them almost unrivalled heft and influence. Irrespective of the many crisis India and the United States have encountered over the decades, the community has ensured the relationship has grown.
- Now, though, the community faces new challenges, ranging from visas to rising nationalism—and is hoping the goodwill from the summit will help resolve these problems.
Don't Miss: News18's continuous coverage of Donald Trump's India visit.