History is both about time and tim- ing. The Modi-Obama meeting comes at a momentous time. But it is an event spoiled by timing. Narendra Modi has made it clear
that US does not top in term of strategic interests. Japan, China and even Pakistan are more
important. History has also shown that this
meeting lacks political drama.
Obama was the Modi of the past who sees in
Modi an Obama of the future. Modi and India
realize that the meeting with Obama is at a
moment when the sun has set on the American
empire. Yet the event is of crucial importance
because globalization has changed the nature of
world politics and the Indian election has
changed the nature of Indian politics.
In fact, Modi is seen by many Americans as
slightly Americanized. He is decisive, pragmatic, tough minded, everything that the now forgotten Manmohan Singh was not.
The Modi-Obama meeting will be attempt to
rescript parts of global strategy. Looming over
the Asian theater is the presence and problem of
China. China has territorial quarrels with
almost every neighboring country. All of these
countries have sought to involve the US in a circle of opposition, to create a strategy of containment. A suspicious China sees the US as the
opposition and seeks to use its economic power
to retaliate. India and the US have to work
strategically to pluralize the Asian theater.
As a growing global power, India would seek
to mark its footprint on the international stage.
The Middle East is in turmoil and India would
seek to stabilize the US involvement in the
Middle East. One has to recognize that the
Middle East is remittance territory for India.
We need both their oil and the jobs they provide.
Modi has to signal autonomy and decisiveness. He has to
show the US that the age of the Kissingers and Reagans is
over. He has to signal India is as interested in Europe as
Europe is in India. But they are deeper issues for the US
and India to talk about.
Pakistan in many ways is a creation of American policy.
The question of terror and the question of Pakistan are
deeply intertwined. As a rogue State, Pakistan has nurtured
terrorist organizations which have unleashed themselves
on India. There is one possibility that the US has to con-
sider. This is the decision to consider Pakistan a part of the
list of countries sponsoring terror. One realizes Pakistan is
important, but one also recognizes Pakistan is the most
contentious issue in the see-sawing relationship between
the US and India.
Of late, the US has been absent minded about India.
Each side seems to be waiting for the other to be making an
interesting move and neither seems to have the imagina-
tion for it. Also, one senses that global politics has changed.
Modi’s idea of a conversation of City States and not only
nations should probably include states like New York or
California. One senses that the battle
of climate change will be fought by
the cities to improve their quality of
life rather than by Nation States.
In a deep way, the US-India drama
always creates expectations. India
and the US must be natural allies,
but neither country has sought to
improve what nature has given
them. One hopes the Diaspora plays
a more creative role both in image
building and the possibilities of con-
The Indian Diaspora is the Indian
double and one hopes it’s a bit more
creative in its ability to plays politics.
Being a part of the American dream
is critical, but diminishing bits of the
Indian nightmare in global politics
would give it a new creative role.
Beyond economics, the Diaspora
has been limited in its ambitions and
jingoistic in its politics. I think the
time is opportune for the Diaspora
to go beyond Khalistan and nuclear
bombs and a play a less narcissist,
more creative role, in the global
world. Just parading a list of successful Diasporics as chief executives
is hardly adequate today.
At a more a pragmatic level, India
has to rethink a different future. In
this context, defense, intellectual
property, immigration and energy
become key issues. India needs long
range programs in energy, education
and economic development. These
have to be formal, detailed and long
run. Yet there are agonizing issues to
resolve here. How far should India
follow its nuclear program? Is what
is good for Westinghouse good for
To me, the real conversation with
America has to be the conversation
with universities. The American university is America’s most precious
cultural asset. A conversation of universities is, I think, one of the most
promising, peaceful, sustainable,
experiments that the Mobama
exchange can establish.
There are other contentious issues.
There is the irksome question of climate change and the equally problematic ideas of the WTO. In both
these, India has to represent the
India and the US are like two old friends who have forgotten how to engage with each other. In the Mobama
exchange lies the responsibility of setting the new protocols
between the US and India and using this to rethink the current conditions of the Global Order.
Shiv Visvanathan is a social science nomad.
is one of the
experiments that the
PARESH GANDHI ‘The American university is America’s most precious cultural asset.’
The real conversation with America has
to be the conversation with universities