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Obama’s Republic Day Visit Builds Greater US-India Rapport

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by Sarah Batiuk
President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi discuss areas of mutual interest during India’s Republic Day Celebrations. Image: Wikimedia Commons

On January 26th, President Barack Obama became the first US president to visit India twice while in office, as well as the first US president ever to attend India’s Republic Day celebrations. Obama made this historic journey on the invitation of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose successful visit to the United States in September 2014 allowed for a “reset” of ties between the United States and India after a rough patch in early 2014. After Modi’s visit, it was clear that India is increasingly perceived by many in the United States as a key partner in the US rebalance to Asia.  Numerous US officials, including Ranking Member of the House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Committee Eliot Engel(D-NY), expressed enthusiasm for Obama’s visit and the hope that it would result in a more comprehensive US-India relationship.

Leading up to Obama’s historic trip, the United States and India held multi-day meetings on a variety of topics for cooperation, from new areas of investment to methods to counter the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The US-India Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Working Group agreed to work on policies that would “stimulate rapid diffusion of […] ICT products and services […] that reduce costs to consumers and businesses.”

During the visit, Obama and Modi took every opportunity to reaffirm the positive direction of their countries’ bilateral relationship. In their opening greetings to each other  and joint statement, both leaders mentioned moving forward  in cooperation in nuclear energy via the Civil Nuclear Agreement, fighting terrorism, increasing economic ties, and mitigating climate change. They both also emphasized that this growing friendship is due to not just shared interests but also shared values such as democracy and maintaining a stable regional and global order.

Following the Republic Day parade, Obama pledged $4 billion in loans and investments to increase bilateral trade between the United States and India. Currently, India’s market only accounts for 1% of total US exports and 2% of US imports. In the hopes of swelling these numbers, the US Overseas Private Investment Corporation and US Export-Import Bank both pledged $1 billion to finance small and medium-sized enterprises in India and “Made in America” products respectively. The US Trade and Development Agency pledged to provide the remaining $2 billion to increase investments in renewable energy. 

Renewable energy formed a large facet of talks on expanding climate and clean energy cooperation between the United States and India. In addition to reaffirming commitments to the US-India Joint Clean Energy Research and Development Center, Obama and Modi also agreed to promote off-grid appliances, accelerate clean energy financing, improve tools for climate resilience, and make off-grid appliances more efficient.

Sarah Batiuk is the Event Coordinator and a Program Assistant at the East-West Center in Washington.