Obama's 'mann ki baat': What PM Modi wants to hear from the US President

President Obama of the United States is slated to arrive in and be a part of India’s Republic Day celebrations. The visit is in the nature of a landmark one: it will most likely be in the nature of validation for India’s great power aspirations and offering the United States’ backing and support for this goal. This is what India would like to hear and want.

There is a manifold context and backdrop to the visit: oil prices are at record lows, the global economy is expected to grow (albeit at revised rates), and more importantly the United States is back in the economic game, so to speak and India is slated to overtake China in 2017 by an IMF forecast. Overlaying these developments and trends is putative change in system wherein both power diffusion and transition are gradually but inexorably is happening. In this schema, the Indo-US partnership assumes significance.

The world is on the cusp of far reaching, wide and deep change. However, the shape and form of this change is not known. Fluidity and uncertainty inhere in the contemporary world. Will it be a bipolar or a loosely multipolar world? Will China be a stakeholder or a revisionist power? Will globalization continue in the same direction and trajectory, will it come to a halt and will it pan out in a different permutation and combination? How will the Middle East’s politics pan out and denounce? Will the Sykes-Picot arrangements hold or the new churn in the volatile Middle East lead to a new configuration, altered borders and new balances or imbalances of power? Will the emerging world order that will emerge from the detritus of chaos, disorder and fluidity be underwritten by a hegemon? What will be the nature of this hegemon? Will it be the United States? Or will the new hegemony be in the nature of ‘co-operative hegemony?

 Obamas mann ki baat: What PM Modi wants to hear from the US President

The poster released for the joint address. Image courtesy: Twitter

These are some of the salient questions and question marks hanging over world politics and international relations. Nobody would have definite and definitive answers to these. But what may be certain is that the United States would be looking to have some kind of influence in the emerging world order. The country may not be primus inter pares anymore but it would want to influence or even shape events and trends in its favor. Power and its accoutrements change and evolve by the day and power in the 21st century is a multidimensional concept. This renders balance(s) of power complex and convoluted: a simple balance of power framework with a hegemon holding the balance is perhaps unattainable in this day and age. While balances of power are not passé and still retail some relevance, influence in the 21st century is a sophisticated game.

The United States then will aim for both power and influence in the 21st century amid the change and churn that is taking place. In this schema, the ‘Asian theatre’, so to speak assumes significance. And , in this Asian theatre- the happening place, if one were to use this phrase, India , assumes even greater significance. Held to overtake China by 2017, a democratic country with a civilization state self perception of itself, India would be courted by the United States for a range of reasons and levels. Its growing economy and expanding middle class offers the United States’ firms a huge market, there is latent potential for a vigorous two way trade and in terms of global and regional security, India may see eye to eye on a range of issues. While India has made it clear that it would not like to used to contain China, building a hedge against China (not the same thing as containment) would be something that India may not be loath to look at and be party to. Similarly, India and the United States may be on the same page regarding Afghanistan.

These are, more or less, issues that are tactical and issue based. There may be more to the potential Indo-US relationship and bonhomie. India, may be becoming more important in the grand strategy calculus of the United States for reasons already pointed out. To recapitulate, India may be the state that offers the United States leeway and latitude in pursuing its agenda of influence in and over the 21st century’s politics and international relations. So what will Obama be saying?

Obama will wax lyrical over India, hark back to its past and dwell on its future- all in sanguine and salutary terms. He will talk about mutual interests and common dangers and he will swoon over Modi and schmooze with him. Will this work? Perhaps. Great power validation is what India seeks and craves. Obama’s charm offensive and then a private, hard talk, may well work but it would be well worth remembering Palmerston’s dictum that nations have no permanent enemies or friends, they only have permanent interests.

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Updated Date: Jan 24, 2015 15:40:51 IST