Prime Minister Narendra Modi, US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump at Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad in February. Both Modi and Trump have started eyeing the Indian-American segment
President Donald Trump termed the United States of America’s relationship with India as “extraordinary” and boasted that a lot of progress had been made in the bilateral ties during his maiden official visit to India where the US will be doing a lot of business.
A dispassionate analysis is the need of the hour to assess the use of the word, ‘extraordinary’, to independently analyse the assumptions that had been made about the relationship between the two countries during and after the visit by State functionaries and commentators on both sides.
Over the last two decades, Indo-US relations have improved dramatically in terms of bilateral trade as well as government-to-government engagement on critical issues. The engagement now covers a vast ground, encapsulating several fields like education, space, energy, defence, counter-terrorism and agriculture.
The change is visible even outside government circles. Only two decades ago, studies on India were relegated to regional studies in US universities or think tanks. India-related fields of study were popular in disciplines like history or development economics. Now India finds an independent mention in academia as well as in strategic and economic debates, particularly in the broader Asian context. Interest in India has grown progressively since the late 1990s.
Apart from looking at the positives, a reality check is required to fully comprehend the contemporary practical realities of the engagement. The facts of geography, economics and political realities cannot be ignored in this context.
Many strategic thinkers have repeatedly argued that the US requires India to contain China’s geo-strategic ambitions in Asia. There is hardly any elaboration on how India could act as a balancer to China with the two economies having vastly different muscle and trajectories. India’s per capita GDP is around $2000, one-fifth of China’s, which is already a global power in some spheres.
The skewed narrative in India is partly a result of the fact that its strategic discourse is divorced from the economic realities on the ground.