Modi off to win Washington

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses during Global Citizen Festival at the Central Park, in New York, United States of America
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses during Global Citizen Festival at the Central Park, in New York, United States of America

After wowing the Indian-American community and wooing the big business in the Big Apple, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is headed to Washington for his first summit with President Barack Obama to reset stalled India-US relations.

When Modi fasting for the Hindu festival of Navratri sits down for a private dinner with President Barack Obama in the Blue Room of the White House Monday evening, the denial of a US visa to him for ten long years or the shabby treatment of an Indian diplomat is unlikely to be on the plate.

More likely the leaders of the world’s largest and oldest democracies would be focusing on how to realise the full promise of what Obama once famously described as one of the “defining partnership of the 1st century.”

Though major differences over trade and foreign policy issues still persist, observers see a complete mood swing in the US since Modi’s sweeping electoral victory with enormous optimism about where the India-US relations could go.

“Modi’s visit comes at a time when India and the United States are each seeking big things from the other,” according to the New York Times.

And in trying to urgently repair the withered relationship both Washington and Delhi are “showering each other with the diplomatic equivalent of champagne and roses during Mr. Modi’s five-day visit to America,” as the influential US daily put it.

The very fact that three top members of President Barack Obama’s cabinet – Secretary of State John Kerry, Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker – have visited India in quick succession is reflective of the change in sentiment about India, officials say.

The changing perceptions about India are also reflected by the presence of as many as four US Senators, 36 House members and one state governor in the audience at his rock star-like reception by the Indian-American community at Madison Square Garden in New York Sunday.

Besides meeting them individually backstage before starting his speech, Modi sat down separately for nearly 15 minutes with Robert Menendez, Democratic chairman of the crucial Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

He is also set to have tea with Republican House Speaker John Boehner and other members of the Congressional leadership after his bilateral summit meeting with Obama and a lunch hosted by Vice President Joe Biden and Kerry at the State Department Tuesday.

But the greatest change is evident in how the business looks at India under Modi who has a business-friendly image given his development record as Gujarat chief minister.

He is scheduled to meet on Monday with 11 chief executives from companies like Boeing, Google and Goldman Sachs in New York and give a policy address at the US-India Business Council (USIBC) comprising over 300 top US companies in Washington Tuesday.

Modi will also meet former president Bill Clinton and his spouse and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in New York Monday before leaving for Washington. The power couple are counted among friends of India and it was Clinton that India-US relations started looking up again with the start of negotiations to end India’s nuclear isolation.

Modi will address the Council on Foreign Relations, a leading think tank, to discuss India’s strategic priorities before flying off to Washington for his summit meetings with Obama on Sep 29-30.

Reflecting Obama administration’s desire to build bridges with Modi, he will be housed in the 190-year-old historic Blair House, the presidential state guest house across the street from the White House.