Saturday, September 27, 2014

Modi's Orbit Passes Through Washington (Via Mars)

Modi’s orbit passes through Washington (via Mars)

India’s power is growing as America’s declines
A father and his son look at information about planet Mars on a poster put up at the Nehru Planetarium as a special preview on India's Mars Orbiter Mission, in Bangalore on September 23, 2014. An Indian spacecraft is on course to reach Mars, an official said September 15, following a 666-million-kilometre voyage that could see New Delhi's low-cost space programme win Asia's race to the Red Planet. The spacecraft is expected to enter Mars orbit on September 24. AFP PHOTO/Manjunath KIRAN (Photo credit should read MANJUNATH KIRAN/AFP/Getty Images)©AFP
Barack Obama once described Manmohan Singh as his guru. India’s then prime minister was feted with Mr Obama’s first state dinner in 2009. The next year he pledged to support India’s bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. For all that, nothing much came of the relationship. On Monday, Mr Obama will receive a very different Indian leader. There will be no dinner for Narendra Modi – food will not even pass his lips, since he is on a holy fast (just a little lemon juice). The meeting is not expected to yield any big “deliverables”. In a week where India’s probe reached Mars, it will nevertheless be a moment for Mr Obama to assess India’s ascent – and America’s contested leadership in a world he said this week was poised between “disorder and integration, between fear and hope.”
It ought to be a good moment for the leaders of the world’s largest and richest democracies to discuss its future. Yet that is the last thing on Mr Modi’s mind. Having invested a lot of capital in a US-India “natural alliance”, Mr Obama meets a new Indian leader who believes he owes the US nothing. Mr Modi was only given clearance to visit the US in April having suffered a visa ban for the previous decade. Among the world’s big leaders, Mr Obama comes last on Mr Modi’s itinerary. After his election in May, Mr Modi travelled to Japan to meet Shinzo Abe. Then he received Xi Jinping in his home state of Gujarat earlier this month. He also met Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the Bric summit in Brazil. Mr Modi arrives in the US bearing neither gifts nor the advice of a guru.




Mr Modi’s agenda is economic development. His main aim is to extract from US companies the same kinds of investment pledges he got from Japan and China ($35bn and $20bn respectively). Mr Obama’s agenda is geopolitical. His chief purpose will be to restore the embryonic US-India alliance that went into abeyance in the final, increasingly ill-tempered, two years of Mr Singh’s government. There is little reason to believe that either will get what they want. Mr Obama is in no position to make the kinds of investment promises that come easily to more command-led economies, such as China’s. From Lockheed Martin to Caterpillar, US companies are keen to step up investment in India if Mr Modi can deliver on his promise to liberalise regulations and reduce bureaucracy. So far Mr Modi has avoided announcing any dramatic reforms. But the conversation to be had is with US private sector leaders, not with Mr Obama.
Mr Modi, meanwhile, is uninterested in shoring up America’s power for the sake of it. The signs, so far, are that he is happy to undercut America’s agenda. Earlier this week, India boycotted the US-led meeting on climate change describing global warming as a rich world responsibility. Mr Obama thought it was important enough to give a set piece speech. Earlier this month, India derailed the World Trade Organization’s trade facilitation agreement and thus damped prospects of a revival of the Doha round of world trade talks. India may well be the biggest victim of both of Mr Modi’s actions – it is on the frontline of climate change and its actions on trade will only hasten others to press on with regional pacts from which India is excluded. Yet there is little doubt that Mr Modi is leader of a growing great power, while Mr Obama’s America is no longer the unchallenged top dog. Among the Bric economies, India’s is the only one set to accelerate with 6.3 per cent growth forecast for next year. It is also the world’s largest arms importer. It even managed to send a satellite to Mars this week. India may have done it on the cheap. But its flawless 100m km journey was a sign of the ambitions of a rising power. Mr Obama would be wise to strike up a new friendship.
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