U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent trip to India was designed to emphasize the close relationship between the oldest and largest democracies and the friendship between Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi while underscoring India’s growing global significance. However, several strategic issues have taken the shine off India. In the past six months, India has received incessant bad press globally because of its constitutional annexation of Kashmir and subsequent human rights violations there, the visible rise of Hindu nationalist sentiment, and Modi’s efforts to communalize Indian citizenship. The country’s economy is experiencing a setback, and its domestic politics is in turmoil. The capital, New Delhi, experienced communal violence even during the Trump visit. However, it appears that Trump’s visit focused more on political pageantry than any serious progress on key issues. This visit, though beneficial for Modi and Trump, may neither strengthen India nor strengthen U.S.-India relations.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, U.S.-Indian relations have improved slowly but steadily, to the point that today the United States sees India as a key ally in the Indo-Pacific region, the battleground where both geoeconomic and geopolitical struggles between the U.S. and China will rage. The United States now recognizes India as an economic powerhouse; India’s economy is the third largest (adjusted for purchasing power parity). India is the world’s biggest democracy, and its geographic location allows it to bookend the entire Indo-Pacific region, with India on one end and the U.S. at the other. Since 2005, consecutive U.S. administrations have been nurturing and grooming India to become a truly regional strategic partner (Trump is the fourth consecutive U.S. president to visit India.) And, according to the U.S. National Security Strategy (p. 46), the United States now sees India as an ally on par with Japan and Australia.
Four key developments have allowed this strategic partnership to grow. The first was the collapse of the Soviet Union that forced India to open up to the United States and the West in general. Until then, in spite of its leadership in the Non Aligned Movement, India was firmly in the Soviet camp. Its defense technology and trade dynamics were enmeshed with the Soviet system.
The second development was the liberalization of the Indian economy, leading to increasing bilateral trade and U.S. investments in India. With $142 billion dollars in annual trade, the United States is India’s biggest trading partner. With U.S. investments in India amounting to $49 billion dollars and Indian investments in the U.S. crossing $9 billion, it is clear that the two nations are invested in each other’s economic fortunes.
The third and fourth developments are strategic in nature. The India-U.S. nuclear deal not only facilitates nuclear cooperation between the two nations, but also allows the growth and global engagement of Indian nuclear scientists, and has in effect legitimized India’s nuclear power status. This deal also sends confidence-building signals that India and the United States now not only trust each other but also envision a shared strategic future. This key turning point has accelerated the pace with which the two nations have come together.
The final development is the rebranding of Washington’s grand strategy in Asia from the “pivot to Asia,” which was an acknowledgement of the growing military and economic power and relevance of East Asia. The new concept – Indo-Pacific Strategy – elevates India, which is now part of the new U.S.-Australia-Japan-India partnership to keep the region open, democratic, and free from exclusive Chinese hegemony. The Indo-Pacific Strategy is the United States’ response to China’s One Belt One Road initiative. Former U.S. President Barack Obama had described this emerging relationship as the “defining partnership of the 21st century.” Trump, in his speech during the “Namaste Trump” event held in his honor, reiterated this alliance.
From a political perspective, the visit was successful. Trump got what he always wanted: the adulation of the masses overseas. He clearly enjoyed the “Namaste Trump” event, a sequel to the “Howdy Modi” event in Texas last year, with over 100,000 admiring fans in the world’s largest cricket stadium. It was another mega election rally that his loyal supporters at home are used to. Additionally, he advanced the United States’ business interests by announcing a $3 billion military helicopters deal. For Trump, this kind of reception – especially while U.S. Democrats are working through a contentious presidential primary – is a big political win.
Modi also benefits politically. Trump’s visit will not have much impact on India’s global image; on the contrary, many cringe at the “bromance,” the hugging, the mutual adulation of two majoritarian populist leaders. But at home, Modi’s dwindling political image received a major boost. Praise and public affirmation by the most powerful man on the planet will restore Modi’s popularity with his base and perhaps also rejuvenate him and his base to face ongoing political and economic challenges.
From a strategic and long-term perspective, it is clear that there has been little progress, but politically speaking, both leaders made short term gains.
India’s growing global appeal was based on what I call India’s “three pillars of prominence”: democracy, secularism, and economic growth. But if the erosion of these values continues and the decline in economic growth does not reverse, then the prospects of India becoming a close partner of the United States and becoming a leader in security and global governance will evaporate rapidly. The measures taken by the Modi government in the past few months have resulted in electoral defeats in regional elections for his party, endless protests against his religiously discriminatory policies, and an avalanche of condemnation from the global civil society.
The riots and violence against Muslims in New Delhi instigated by the members of the ruling party, just 11 miles from where Trump and Modi met, exposes not only India’s domestic fragility but also Modi’s failure to govern. Trump, who loves watching TV, might have seen on Indian channels the horror show that New Delhi has become – mosque vandalized, businesses burned, over 10 dead, hundreds injured, and entire neighborhoods torched. Perhaps he might ask Modi; you cannot keep your own capital safe and free; how are you going to help keep the entire Indo-Pacific region safe and free?
If the U.S. wants India to be a worthy partner, then the U.S. must become a firm mentor. It cannot let India slide, especially on the very criteria that makes it appealing. India’s shift from good governance to Hindutvization makes it not only an unreliable partner but also a strategic risk. Washington has to firmly and publicly push back against the identity politics that Modi and his party have unleashed.
India has to play the role that
Europe did during the Cold War: partner with the United States to create
balance and lead to victory over communism. India could be the United States’
new partner in its confrontation with Chinese communism, but it is not there
yet. Not only is the world’s biggest democracy at risk, the security and
openness of the entire Indo-Pacific region is at stake. India’s meltdown into
domestic strife will not only fail Washington’s Indo-Pacific Strategy but also
help China dominate the region.
The Navigator is a policy analysis produced by the Center for Global Policy.
Whose Human Rights Matter?
Every year, the US State Department publishes a report on the human rights situation in various countries around the world. The report reviews the various aspects of human rights in the countries over the previous year. In line with this, on March 20, 2023, the United States released the ”2022 Country Reports on Human Rights Practises” on the global human rights situation and various aspects of human rights across the countries over the previous year. The report highlighted several aspects of the overall human rights situation in Bangladesh.
The report shed light on extrajudicial killings, disappearances, restrictions on freedom of expression, media censorship, and other significant issues in Bangladesh. But what is most surprising is that the report said that the national election held in Bangladesh in 2018 was not free and fair! As Bangladesh stands on the cusp of yet another national election following a five-year span, the sudden inclusion of the 2018 elections in the US report has naturally piqued interest and raised questions.
The historical, cultural, and political contexts of various countries, including Western nations, as well as their foreign policy objectives, have a significant impact on how they approach human rights. However, it is often the case that geopolitical interests and bilateral relations are given the utmost priority. Western countries, especially the US, are lenient on human rights with partners and allies, but tough on countries outside their circle or without political interests.
In recent times, there has been a change in the attitude of the United States towards Bangladesh. When it comes to foreign policy, Washington mainly prioritises national security and national interests. The Biden administration is currently focusing mainly on two issues. One is human rights and democratic values, and the second is consolidating their position in the Indo-Pacific region. And there is no denying that the US wants Bangladesh to be a part of their Indo-Pacific strategy.
The US-led Indo-Pacific strategy aims to counter China’s influence in South and Southeast Asia through partnerships with India, Japan, and Australia. While the US claims the strategy is not aimed at deterring any specific country, analysts believe the recent shift in US attitude towards Bangladesh is primarily driven by a desire to deter China’s influence in the country. It is worth mentioning that China is now Bangladesh’s largest development partner.
Bangladesh has maintained a balanced policy, avoiding alignment with major powers, but the US seems reluctant to agree with this strategy. Washington appears eager to determine Bangladesh’s stance, presenting a clear message: align with us or choose the opposing side. Analysts suggest that pressuring Bangladesh with human rights and democratic concerns may be part of the US strategy to force Bangladesh to curtail its engagement with China.
Perhaps it will be a daunting task to find a single country that has been able to ensure human rights for everyone. The brutal killing of George Floyd or the inhumane treatment of black people is a shining example of how human rights are constantly violated in the United States. According to a recent report from the influential British newspaper The Guardian, US drones and airstrikes have alone killed about 22,000 civilians in the 20 years since 9/11.
The United Nations Human Rights Council reported that over 8,000 civilians have lost their lives due to Russian aggression in Ukraine, leading to Western condemnation of Russia for grave human rights violations. While Russia holds responsibility for these deaths, it is ironic that the United States’ invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, which resulted in civilian casualties, did not receive similar criticism as human rights violations. Likewise, the US rarely speaks out against Israel for violations of Palestinian human rights.
Regrettably, China, a formidable global power that frequently espouses a vision of a new world order centred around its influence, appears to show little interest in human rights. China has long maintained favourable relations with authoritarian countries like Myanmar and North Korea, which are frequently criticised for their human rights records. Despite its massive influence over Myanmar, China has consistently sidestepped the issue of human rights for the Rohingya and provided invisible support to the Myanmar military in this regard.
It is important to acknowledge that China, too, has faced similar allegations of human rights violations against the Uyghur Muslim community and constraints on political rights inside its territory. Ultimately, it has become ironic to anticipate impartial conduct from any nation when it comes to human rights, as the notion of neutrality has lost its essence in this context. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations has never really been universal; rather, the issue of human rights has unfortunately been turned into a political tool for self-interest.
Democracy in Disarray: India’s Uphill Battle against an Escalating Surge of Anti-Democratic Sentiments
India has consistently bragged about being the world’s largest democracy and having an ostensibly ‘secular’ outlook for many decades. The Nehruvian political ideology, which espoused the virtues of secularism as an important pillar of the Indian nation, served as the initial foundation for India’s political landscape after gaining independence. India has significantly departed from its once-celebrated founding principles in modern times, with the RSS BJP dispensation now in power embracing a narrow ideology based on “Hindutva” ideals. Therefore, several well-known Western media outlets have recently expressed their concerns about this apparent change and the implications of India’s ongoing democratic ‘backslide’. Despite India’s rise to one of the world’s most rapidly expanding economies and its crucial role in U.S.-led efforts to balance China, it is difficult to ignore the concurrent rise in repressive measures aimed at stifling dissent within its borders.
Unfortunately, the international community has mostly held back from openly criticizing New Delhi in an effort to preserve a strategic alliance. Most foreign governments, with the exception of Beijing and Islamabad, view India as a crucial trading partner and are therefore reluctant to express their concerns. Even leaders of the Muslim world have kept their opinions on the plight of underprivileged Muslims in India relatively quiet. It is true that self-interest, rather than moral obligations, predominately drives international relations. However, New Delhi’s significance to India’s democratic fabric ensures that the country’s deterioration of democratic standards remains a significant topic of discussion.
India frequently highlights its achievements, from the smooth operation of elections to the unwavering submission to civilian authority, and is proud to wear the title of “world’s largest democracy”. Additionally, programs like the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) and broader international cooperation aimed at confronting China are frequently presented as a joint effort by democratically inclined countries. In response to the stark reality of India’s democratic erosion, many parties have expressed concern, particularly among Western observers. Therefore, economic and strategic concerns are frequently cited as the reason why the international community is reluctant to discuss this issue openly, but India’s importance to its democratic credentials keeps discussions about its democratic trajectory ablaze.
On the other hand, the Indian authorities’ escalating persecution of journalists and online critics due to their criticism of government policies and practices, as exemplified by their use of counterterrorism and sedition laws to prosecute them, represents a flagrant disregard for the basic right to freedom of expression. The Indian authorities must show respect for this fundamental human right, immediately release journalists who have been wrongfully detained on false or politically motivated charges as a result of their critical reporting, and stop systematic persecution of journalists and repression of independent media. India must be prepared for whatever may happen as the world continues to embrace it more and more. It is crucial to understand that New Delhi will feel more empowered to intensify its repressive crackdowns inside its borders the more leniency and immunity it receives.
The fact that the United States and India lack a formal treaty alliance must be acknowledged, although they have developed a comprehensive strategic partnership that spans diplomatic, defense, and developmental interests. However, the alignment of these interests suggests a significant change in their relationship since the Cold War ended. Three main factors are responsible for this transformation. First, after the communist model fell apart in 1991, India shifted its attention to the West by embracing globalization and market economics. Second, despite India’s non-signatory status to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the relations between the two countries have become closer as a result of India’s emergence as a nuclear-armed power and the willingness to accept it into the international civil nuclear regime. Finally, China’s emergence as a regional power with global ambitions forced reluctant leaders in New Delhi and Washington, D.C., to acknowledge the necessity of combining their efforts lest they individually suffer the consequences.
The consolidation of a Hindu-majoritarian political style, the excessive concentration of power within the executive branch and the ensuing erosion of independent institutions, and the repression of political dissent and press freedom are the three main areas of concern when evaluating India’s regression in terms of democracy. While each of these issues is significant in and of itself, the presence of all of them together poses a serious threat to Indian democracy as a whole. The foundations of the U.S.-India strategic partnership, America’s broader interests in the Indo-Pacific region, and international initiatives aimed at promoting democracy will all be jeopardized if India’s democratic decline continues. This includes social stability and prosperity for more than a billion Indians.
Modi’s State Visit to the US: Expansive Engagement
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has travelled to the United States several times since 2014, for bilateral and multilateral visits but from June 21 to 24 he will be on an official state visit to Washington DC. White House press secretary announced that “the President and the First Lady are looking forward to welcoming PM Modi for the official state visit on 22nd June. This will be an opportunity to reaffirm the deep and close partnership between US-India.” Upon his arrival, Modi will receive an official welcome and hold bilateral meetings and delegation level talks. President Joe and First Lady Jill Biden will be hosting a state dinner in his honour. In a singular opportunity granted only to the closest allies of the United States, Modi will be addressing a joint session of the American Congress during his visit to the States.
It is noteworthy that a Democratic President is inviting the Indian Prime Minister for a White House state dinner, while a Republic Speaker has asked him to address the joint session of Congress, indicating bipartisan support for augmenting Indo-US ties.
State visits at the highest level of protocol are rare in the American system, and PM Modi is just the third state visitor during the Biden Presidency. Historically, Modi will be the third Indian leader ever invited for a state visit to the US, since those of President Radha Krishna 1963 and Prime Minister ManMohan Singh in 2009. During the state dinner hosted by President Obama for PM Singh, the two leaders spoke augustly about a “future that beckons all of us.” Modi’s state visit will also be one of the longest of any leader to the US. So in many ways this visit is a significant signalling of the prominence that the US accords to its relations with India. On the agenda are agreements on trade, defence and critical minerals and significant progression of the Indo-US defence partnership, with the signing of a joint production agreement.
Ahead of Modi’s state visit, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin is in India on a two-day visit to explore ways to lay the groundwork for highly anticipated agreements on bilateral defence cooperation, especially in areas of transfer of critical technologies for co-development of military hardware.
With bilateral trade reaching a record-breaking $191 billion last year, U.S.-India Business Council (USIBC) will also be hosting the INDUS-X conference, and scheduled to be held over two days in Washington coinciding with Mr. Modi’s visit.
Building Strategic Linkages over Two Decades:
After decades of intermittently frigid relations, Washington’s ties with New Delhi have grown significantly closer over the past twenty years. trade and investment flows have grown alongside shared geostrategic interests and China’s growing presence and assertiveness in South Asia and the Indian Ocean region is a concern for both. This rapprochement accelerated markedly after the Bush administration lifted the sanctions imposed after India’s nuclear test, and the completion of the Civilian Nuclear Cooperation Initiative. Since Narendra Modi came to power almost a decade ago, security and economic links with the US have enhanced conspicuously, alongside deepening security cooperation like counterterrorism around shared interests limiting China’s influence in the broader Indo-Pacific. President Barack Obama declared India a “major defence partner” and the Trump administration’s growing concerns about China’s regional assertiveness-including along the Sino-Indian border-cemented the U.S.-India security partnership. India was included alongside the United States, Australia, and Japan-as a counterweight to Chinese ambitions in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or the ‘Quad.’
New Delhi and Wasington signed COMCASA (Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement) in 2018 which provides for interoperability between the two militaries and provides for the sale of high-end technology from the US to India. This was followed by the BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement) agreement for sharing of high-end military technology, logistics and geospatial maps between the two countries. The pact provides Billions of dollars in American arms purchases were finalised by the Modi government though it did not accede to Trump’s demands to stop purchasing the S-400 and other Russian military equipment.
Biden Seeks to Broaden Ties:
Advancing on these two decades of deepening strategic linkages the Biden administration has sought to further broaden the scope of the strategic partnership between the two countries and deepen Indian integration into a shared security architecture. With more robust military cooperation such as acceleration of joint military exercises, there has also been revival of the US-India Homeland Security Dialogue, which seeks to strengthen cooperation on cybersecurity, technology, and countering violent extremism. These security-oriented steps with steps have been complemented with initiatives such as the launching of a Clean Energy 2030 partnership, etc. Both leaders oversaw the launch of the India-US Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technology (ICET) during the Quad summit in May 2022. One of the most important results of the ICET was the commencement of negotiations on the General Electric (GE) deal to produce GE-F414 jet engines in India, complete with technology transfer. In February this year the historic deal between Boeing and Air India for the latter to buy more than 200 planes from the American plane manufacturer was announced. Air India is ordering 220 Boeing aircraft valued at $34 billion. The orders include 190 737 Max aircraft, 20 of Boeing’s 787s, and 10 of its 777Xs. The purchase also includes customer options for an additional 50 737 MAXs and 20 of its 787s, totaling 290 aeroplanes for a total of $45.9 billion at list price. In a phone call both leaders discussed the importance of the US-India strategic technology partnership and committed to continue working together and in groups like the Quad to advance economic growth and expand cooperation on their shared priorities.
Deliverables of the Upcoming State visit:
The signing of the MoU with General Electric deal will be the biggest deliverable of Prime Minister Modi’s State visit to the US. India’s Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) has selected 99 F414 GE fighter jet engines to power the Mk II version of the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) for the Indian Air Force. GE was engaged by the Biden administration, and a proposal with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) officials was arrived at. The agreement is to build GE-F414-INS6 engines that will power Tejas-Mk II Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) being built by HAL. The engine of the Mk II works at super high temperatures, is the maximum thrust model in the F-414 model, and includes state-of-the-art technology to meet India’s demanding Air Force and Naval requirements. Although the final details of the agreement will only be clear once the MoU is signed, it is likely that the transfer of technology (ToT) and the percentage of locally manufactured components will exceed 60%, possibly reaching 75%.
Other deliverables include the go ahead New Delhi’s plan to procure 30 MQ-9B armed drones at a cost of over $3 billion from US defence major General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc.
The US is already India’s largest goods trading partner and the only major country with which India has a goods trade surplus. There is also tremendous excitement in the business community over the launch of the initiative INDUS-X, a platform for start-ups and enterprises from both countries to identify collaborations for high-tech innovations within the ambit of the Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technologies (iCET).
Given the kind of aspirations India has in terms of manufacturing, the US is a critical partner. The US has expressed on a number of occasions that it sees the rise of India to be in its interests. Both administrations have shown tremendous excitement for the “defence innovation bridge” of which the GE deal is just one element.
Seize Opportunities to Create Long-Term System Value with Creative Industries
Coldplay, everyone’s favorite band, is presently shocking with their world tour “Music of the Sphere,” anticipated to be the most...
How getting dollars from IMF, World Bank would make the borrower country’s situation worse off
As globalisation and international trade continue to increase, countries are becoming increasingly dependent on one another for economic support. While...
Water on Boil: Weaponization of Water in Contemporary Geopolitics
Authors: Rahul M Lad and Prof. Ravindra G Jaybhaye* A huge Kakhovka dam in the Russian-controlled area of southern Ukraine...
Which Jobs and Industries will Artificial Intelligence Replace First?
You could be forgiven for feeling blindsided by the speed at which artificial intelligence has moved from technology of the...
The Complex Relationship Between Populism and the Economy: A Delicate Balancing Act
Populism on both the right and left has spread like wildfire over the world. The drive reached its apex in...
The CPC’s Governance System: Lessons for Regional Nations on Leadership
The Communist Party of China (CPC), with its robust and pragmatic governance system, has emerged as a leading force in...
The Journey Is The Destination
I spent last year listening to Dr Jordan Peterson, the Canadian clinical psychologist on repeat. So far, it has changed...
Finance4 days ago
BRICS vs the US ‘rules-based order’
Finance4 days ago
Rwanda receives $100million from World Bank to boost private sector
Middle East4 days ago
Gulf support for Turkey’s Erdogan is about more than economics
New Social Compact4 days ago
Welcome to Dystopia: A Society Where No One is Paying Attention
Defense3 days ago
Why is Sweden still on standby to join NATO ?
World News3 days ago
China takes leadership role in Central Asia
World News4 days ago
Think Tanks Provide Intellectual Support for China-Africa Cooperation
Economy3 days ago
From Bullets to Development: Rethinking Military Expenditure in Favour of Official Development Assistance