BY ANANYA SREEKUMAR
Upon his visit to the US, PM Modi is gifted with a t-shirt from Biden that reads "The future is AI: America and India". Read the full article to find out if we are entering this era of A-I.
Last month Washington welcomed Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his first state visit— the highest diplomatic protocol awarded to visiting officials in the USA. The significance of the event was not lost on domestic and international observers, what with the lavish ceremonial reception and state dinner; an unprecedented and rare press conference; historic bilateral defence deals, and fraternising with some of Silicon Valley’s elites. However, beyond the pomp and spectacle that bred blind patriotic pride on either end of the Pacific, PM Modi could not rid the looming shadow of his involvement in the decline of Indian democracy. His lacklustre human rights track record was so hard to ignore that multiple congresspeople like Bernie Sanders, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Ilhan Omar, etc., put forth a joint statement claiming they would boycott Modi’s congressional address in solidarity with minorities in India. Even Obama took time out from his Grecian summer to chastise PM Modi.
Affectionately self-titled the Mother of Democracy, or more commonly, ‘The World's Largest Democracy’, India has faced a crisis of identity and ideology brought on by the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). Many Indians are currently tussling with preserving what makes this nation one of the greatest democracies — diversity enveloped in mutual respect and harmony. PM Modi has shown that despite his eloquent words about human rights and democracy at a rare press conference with President Joe Biden, all that matters to him and his party is a divisive political strategy that will hopefully keep winning him elections. Actions honestly do speak louder than words. The BJP has brazenly stoked communal strife in states nationwide to mobilise voters, viciously attacked press freedom, and managed to eliminate any real opposition, thereby creating an autocratic democracy.
Before his visit, the American ex-Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey corroborated what has been known for some time: Twitter had to comply with the whims of the Indian government or face its wrath. Elon Musk seemed to echo a similar commitment to conforming to local government ‘laws’, i.e. deleting any anti-BJP/Modi content from its platform when requested. In fact, the reason why Modi’s first fully honoured state visit comes so late in his almost decade-long career as Indian prime minister is that a couple of years ago, he was denied entry into the US due to his involvement in the 2002 communal riots of Gujrat. Previously Chief Minister of the state of Gujrat, in 2002, it is alleged that Modi ‘allowed’ anti-Muslim riots to occur for three days in Gujrat.
Coincidentally, at the time of his state visit to the US, the north-eastern state of Manipur was (and still is) embroiled in weeks of rioting between two tribes which has resulted in the death of over a hundred people and the displacement of over 70,000 individuals, yet to this day the PM has felt it is not pertinent he calls for an end to the violence. Interestingly, the conflict is partly due to religious tensions between the tribes. While PM Modi was busy addressing a nation on an entirely different continent about the need for peace and prosperity, his citizens in Manipur are still waiting for an acknowledgement of their plight.
All this being said, I will not ignore the geopolitical benefits of this state visit. The resulting bilateral defence deals and technological commitments have created a win-win situation for both nations. Both countries launched the ‘India-US Defense Acceleration Ecosystem’ (INDUS-X) on 21 June. The Biden administration also promised to aid in producing electric vehicles in India and help the nation meet its installation target of 500 gigawatts of wind, solar, and other renewable energy in this decade. American memory chip giant Micron Technology will invest up to $825 million in a new chip assembly and test plant in Gujarat, PM Modi’s home state, which will be the company's first factory in India. The nations also agreed on the knotty issue of immigration, with the Biden administration deciding to grant a small number of Indians on H-1B visas the ability to renew them in the United States without travelling abroad. While these are only some of the deals made, they display the vast scope and impact of this state visit and also make a pointed signal to a particular nation sharing its border with India.
The US and India have one major geopolitical factor in common: their hostile and anxious relationship with China. A spectator was observing this state visit more keenly than Indian nationalists back home; the Chinese government and media reported on this four-day event extensively. Much of this flourishing cooperation between the two nations can be credited to common enemy number one. As detailed above, Modi’s populist politics, which did well with previous President Trump, does not mesh well with the Biden administration’s seemingly liberal agenda. However, what happens in the domestic spheres of each nation apparently does not matter in the face of geopolitical gain. The US obviously cares more about poking the bear, especially after India has been cosying up to Russia and guzzling Russian gas at a discounted price. The US is positioning India as its keystone in the East against a domineering and pervasive Chinese influence. Now it’s just a waiting game to see if the Indo-Pacific relationship makes it out of this honeymoon phase.
Image: Creator: rawpixel.com / The White House Baiden-Harris (Source)