Modi's US visit: From handshakes to outcomes
The Economic Times, June 30, 2023

By Pradeep S Mehta and Purushendra Singh

India and the US, having the strength to find solutions to the global geopolitical challenges, have put behind the hesitations of the past and are moving towards a period of trusted partnership.

This was reflected during the visit of the Prime Minister of India to the US on 21-22nd June 2023. This visit to the US, which is only the fifth State Visit by an Indian PM, has been significant in many ways. More importantly, Modi was the third world leader to have spoken to the US Congress twice, joining the august company of Nelson Mandela and Winston Churchill. This reflects the strong bipartisan support that Modi and India have in the American polity.

The visit witnessed many deals and many big-ticket items in the sectors of defence, renewable energy, technology collaboration, healthcare and climate change. Technology transfer, the promise for joint production of dual-use technologies and the US’s willingness to help India build a robust Industrial manufacturing base, to match with our Atmanirbhar Bharat plans, have been the key takeaways from this visit.

Along with the 21-gun salute reception that the Indian PM received, this visit has more to offer to a large pool of recipients including sceptics in both countries. The deliverables would engage facilitators at all levels – government-to-government, business-to-business and people-to-people, and Indian expats in the US.

It is good news that the US is willing to play a major role in building India’s manufacturing base and would assist in creating resilient supply chains. This comes at an inflection point for American companies, as some are looking to exit from China. And India is determined to be an alternative to China. The Indian private sector should reap the benefits and make the most of this opportunity, as such changes will mean more business for them, upstream and downstream i.e. the supply chain.

India has emphasised that it can provide competitive advantage in various parts of the semiconductor supply chain, cheap labour with other pull factors. Furthermore, with the large youth population, long coastlines with major shipyards, not to ignore land locked states, and a pool of semi-skilled labour – India stands tall and is likely to attract investments in the core sectors, of which many were discussed during this visit. However, regimes regarding cost of doing business, hastening the slow and delayed process of documentation, and reforming the outdated labour and land laws among other economic governance issues need to be addressed immediately.

Coming to a major outcome, and as the air defence is the first form of a secured line of defence for any country, both have signed a pact to jointly produce engines for next-generation combat fighter jet aircrafts. Furthermore, there were announcements on co-producing GE’s 414 engines for indigenously produced Tejas Mk-2 aircraft, by

Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. It would be correct to say that we are moving from an era of mistrust to an era of trust with the co-production and co-manufacturing of critical and emerging technologies for dual-use purposes now being on the horizon.

Further adding to the air power, the General Atomics MQ-9B Reaper or predator drones is seen as another important deal. As the name suggests these would be the guardians of India’s frontline from the Himalayas to the Indian Ocean. Not to forget, with the signing of this deal, both the immediate hostile neighbouring countries of India are alarmed, unhappy and cautious.

These dual-use drones would also be vital for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) and disaster relief purposes, especially in areas of difficult terrain. With this deal, India becomes the only non-treaty ally of the US with whom a transfer of technology in the defence sector is taking place.

Additionally, the defence industries of the two countries launched the India-US Defence Acceleration Ecosystem to expand and further collaborate on joint technology partnerships, startups and defence industrial cooperation. This has been missing in the past, at least at the G2G level.

More so, this deepening partnership is going to strengthen the role of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or the Quad in the Indo-Pacific. Both along with two other members of the Quad – Australia and Japan have time and again, stuck to a single agenda that the Quad is crucial for a free, open, secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific.

In light of secure and open seas, India and US have further deepened their interoperability and MRO (Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul) facilities by signing a Master Ship Repair Agreement (MSRA) with Indian shipyards. This would be cost-effective and time-saving for the US Navy, as it would allow its ships to undertake MRO including servicing facilities at Indian shipyards.

This visit is also significant in light of recent geopolitical challenges in Eurasia, the technology race and the opening of new domains of warfare, including unmanned and wars in space. India has shown its willingness to join the Artemis Accords, which would bring India into the league of space explorers and innovators. NASA and ISRO have agreed to deploy a joint mission to the International Space Station in 2024. This is an unfolding path to joint space exploration and exploring opportunities beyond Earth’s orbital imaginations.

Now, it's time to convert the official handshakes into outcomes. In a dip stick survey carried out by CUTS International in India and the USA, it is evident that there is a majority support for these developments, but, much more needs to be done to complement efforts underway at the inter-governmental level to further buttress this partnership, in order to harness the full potential of the outcomes of this visit and pave the way forward. This should involve, in both countries, state governments, business chambers and civil society. Equally, the expat Indian population in the USA too has a big role to play, to build a narrative in favour of closer relations.

Lastly, recalling the former Indian PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s statement, “India and the US are natural allies”, this strategic nexus of India-US has a role to play as a strategic counterweight to China as well. More so, on our road to becoming an Atmanirbhar and developed nation by 2047, the US would have a large role to play.

The authors work for CUTS International, a global public policy research and advocacy group with offices in many countries, including the USA.

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