There has been a systematic campaign through the media to douse expectations and therefore interest in the 26 June meeting between President Donald John Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi. Quoting “informed” sources, a flurry of media reports have warned that the meeting is unlikely to generate anything more than a photo opportunity. Were this to actually be the case, it is impossible to believe that two world leaders as busy as Trump and Modi would spare time off from their schedules for just a handshake and a chat. Prime Minister Modi is known to plan his days meticulously, and would not take away two full days from his schedule to travel all the way to Washington and back, stopping off in Europe both ways in order to hold important meetings with the Heads of Government in Portugal and the Netherlands.
President Trump has appointed more people of Indian origin to high office than his predecessors, and this will surely be a factor in the chemistry of his relations with Prime Minister Modi, who too has come to office because of the will of the people, exactly as President Trump has. The two have been in contact through the telephone before, and this first meeting between the heads of the two largest democracies in the world will be important in setting the contours of the future relationship between Delhi and Washington. Hence, to call such a meeting of little consequence is to ignore the significance, or the need, of India and the US working together in support of their numerous shared objectives. It can be understood why a section of the media in the US cannot forgive Trump for having defeated their favourite (Hillary Clinton) in the 2016 Presidential polls. These media outlets are worried lest the Trump-Modi meeting be a success, as in their narrative, the 45th President of the United States will fail at anything worthwhile that he seeks to accomplish. It is through their reach in India that reports have appeared in some profusion in India as well downplaying the significance of this first meeting between the two titans of democracy, Trump and Modi.
The US and India have a shipload of common interests and only a lorryload of differences. Terror in the form of ISIS, Al Qaeda and other extremist groups motivated by hatred and exclusion has struck both countries repeatedly, and it is therefore vital for both sides to ensure that their intelligence and their experience be shared in such a manner as would prevent further attacks. Both the US as well as India have a shared interest in the sea lanes of Asia being open to all without exception, including the waters to the east of India. Just as India does not claim the Indian Ocean as its lawful territory, so too would the world expect that no country would seek to appropriate the waters of the Indo-Pacific as its monopoly. More worrisome would be efforts at creating military assets within such waters that would obviously be designed to deny entry to the rest of the international community. India and the US need to work, in some ways together and in other ways separately, towards ensuring full freedom of navigation within the seas of Asia, without being threatened by military structures designed to establish a monopoly for any country within such waters. This will surely form part of the conversation between Modi and Trump, as will the creation of a world order that ensures that the realities of the 21st century be factored into the architecture of states, rather than these remain trapped in constructs that are hopelessly out of date. In such a context, especially given the support extended by India in numerous fora to China, including in the matter of the UN Security Council, it is a matter of shock that Beijing has blocked India from joining not just the UNSC, but even the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). It is clear that President Vladimir Putin of Russia failed to convince President Xi Jinping to abandon the blocking of India. Hopefully, now that he and Xi have bonded over golf and barbecues at Mar a Lago in Florida, President Trump will have greater success in ensuring that China welcomes this country’s entry into the NSG. Both the US and India need to work together in order to ensure that the world’s most populous democracy is given entry into key institutions forming the global architecture. Simultaneously, what is needed is for joint activity to ensure security as well as prosperity in a manner which benefits both sides. The Washington meeting between two of the most important global statespersons is certain to have important and beneficial consequences, given the strong determination on both sides to ensure that India and the US form a partnership that is essential to meet the geopolitical challenges of the 21st century. Not only citizens in the US and India but those across the globe will be watching the meeting. The Sunday Guardian expects that the meeting between two titans of the democratic world will ensure a much better identification and utilisation of the potential synergy between Washington and Delhi than has been the case thus far.