Tue. May 21st, 2024

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi is no stranger to adulation and rock star receptions by Indian Americans, yet this time it’s different.

The White House launched a charm offensive like never before, from the elaborate South Lawn welcome amidst 7,000 Indian Americans to the first plant-based state dinner with his favorite stuffed mushrooms and saffron risotto. It was tailor-made to not only win over India but also PM Modi personally.

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The White House launched a charm offensive like never before. (File)

The popular perception is the current US-India relationship can be summed up in one word, or rather due to one word – China. In an increasingly unipolar world, where countries are acting in self-serving interests, it is said that India serves US interests, albeit currently.

The belief is that the US, which has a history of readily making friends and unceremoniously dropping them, from Venezuela to Pakistan, will mete out the same to India when the global chessboard makes a new play. That India is only a swing state and will be replaced when geopolitical headwinds blow in a different direction.

That is not true.

This time around, the US and India have solidified their mutual admiration spurred by pragmatic needs into a real marriage with contracts.

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This time around, the US and India have solidified their mutual admiration. (File)

There is plenty of collaboration – from drone deals, space exploration to friend-shoring, a significant move to diversify the semiconductor supply chain away from China. But the strongest signal that the US is in this relationship for the long haul is the unprecedented transfer of high-end jet engine technology, with GE and Hindustan Aeronautics set to jointly produce F414 jet engines.

The length and breadth of the relationship can be compared to the permanent friends US has cultivated in the post World War II era, the best examples being UK and Israel, which are well entrenched in common interests.

While the UK offers a co-dependent military relationship evident in the previous and current Cold War, Israel commands a loyal friendship due to its powerful political lobby in the US.

India offers even more. The military relationship in the Indo-Pacific, the political influence of Indian Americans and as the most populous country in the world, what the US needs the most – a buyer for its products – the Indian middle class will soon become the largest consumer in the world.

Yet, as with any marriage, no relationship is perfect.

There is plenty to iron out on human rights records and India’s constraining labor laws and perceived protectionist policies. And that growth must be equitable and sustainable, not concentrated in the hands of a few conglomerates. Nonetheless, India’s leverage far exceeds the differences.

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PM Modi said the coming together of Indian talent and US’s technology guarantees a bright future.

The turning point for India has been its refusal to toe the US line on Russia. India’s visible assertiveness is groundbreaking. Instead of reactions of strong condemnation, India’s stance marked its pivotal arrival on the global stage. It was a double win for the Modi administration, with the purchase of Russian oil simultaneously reducing India’s current account deficit.

By restating that it stands for peace through diplomacy and dialogue, India is making a powerful point. Besides “democracy and shared values”, India and the US share a huge common denominator, they both thrive amidst global stability.

This is not a value-based argument, but an economic one. Some countries like Russia, Middle East and Iran benefit from geopolitical unrest and economic volatility. Devoid of strong financial markets, they gain from a shaky global axis causing spikes in crude prices and crashing stock markets.

India and the US are on opposite sides of that spectrum. They both do well when financial markets rise and commodity prices are low, a reflection of a peaceful and stable global order.

They also share a powerful bloc of people – Indian Americans.

But why does the four million strong, fastest growing, second largest immigrant group matter so much? For the US, not only is it a $30 million dollar donor group, it has the ability to swing elections in battleground states where the bloc is bigger than the razor-thin margins seen in Georgia, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Their rising trajectory to power is not only evident in the shout-outs from both leaders. They are brilliant in every field, “not just spelling bee”, said PM Modi, but also in their clout in domestic politics and business. From US Vice President Kamala Harris, and US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy to Joe Biden’s speechwriter Vinay Reddy, they occupy more than 130 senior leadership positions in the Biden administration. The Indian influence in the global CEO circle is now well-documented over the last decade, but it is the political clout that has recently emerged which differentiates it from other immigrant groups.

In my own experience as an Indian American living in New York for the past 13 years, the need to conform to the “American way” is being replaced by the “Indian American way”. This year, New York City declared Diwali an official public school holiday, calling it a “long overdue” acknowledgement of the community.

The possibility of an Indian-American US President in the next decade is far from remote, with three Indian origin candidates poised for the 2024 presidential elections. No matter what your political or geographical proclivities, this will be the Indian-American century.

(Namrata Brar is an Indian-American journalist, investigative reporter and news anchor. She is the former US bureau chief for NDTV.)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.

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