President Obama will be arriving in India on Sunday. And when he gets there, he’ll partake in a rare honor.
He’ll lead the country’s annual Republic Day parade. No American head of state has attended that ceremony.
It’s an indication that while the diplomatic reasons for the trip include trade, security issues and climate change, there lies a powerful message to send.
India and the United States are forging a stronger relationship.
Sadandand Dhume talked about that relationship at the January meeting of the Savannah Council on World Affairs.
Dhume is a resident and fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a journalist for many media outlets covering Indian affairs.
“This actually reflects quite a dramatic new development,” he says. “It’s in America’s interests to see India fulfill its own ambition to play a greater role in world affairs.”
Historically, the U.S. and India haven’t been as tightly connected as they are now.
That’s partly because India’s founding fathers embarked on a policy of non-alignment. India didn’t take sides in the Cold War confrontation between Washington and Moscow.
And it’s also partly because India’s founding fathers equated capitalism with colonization. And so their economic model was more state-controlled, socialist and… a failure.
The Indian people recognized this a few decades ago and elected leaders that liberalized the economy.
“Since India embarked upon economic reforms in 1991, it has grown at an average of above seven percent a year,” Dhume says. “It began to be seen as one of the potential engines of economic growth.”
And so, the two countries grew closer together.
But there was another simple reason that India and the United States started to rediscover each other in the 1990’s.
And that was the emergence of China as a global power.
China, of course, is an autocratic country devoid of the basic freedoms that Indians have enjoyed since independence in 1947.
“An Asia that has a large, democratic, pluralistic, contentious India with a free press, every religion in the world and so many languages is automatically kind of the un-China,” Dhume says.
America is better served if smaller Asian countries cozy up to India instead of China.
And this could lead the world’s largest democracy to drop its long-standing hesitance toward a strong military partnership with the United States.
“There’s a very strong sense of optimism in Washington among the people I speak with that this government in India is going to take that defense relationship to the next level,” Dhume says. “Most likely there will be an announcement of a new strategic partnership over the next ten years and also an announcement on co-production and co-development of weapons systems.”
India’s new prime minister, Narendra Modi, is seen as especially willing to partner with the United States.
That’s because Modi portrays himself on “tough on terrorism.”
His party recently secured the country’s first single-party majority government in decades.
Dhume says this could lead to more stability in the halls of power.
“It’s a particularly exciting time in India because of quite dramatic political events,” he says. “We had a historic election in India last year.”
Dhume says these events and others make his talk unlike any he would have given a few short years ago.
His talk was recorded at the Coastal Georgia Center.
His remarks last about 25 minutes.