Rolling out the red carpet for Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his state visit to Washington, U.S. President Joseph Biden underlined his belief that the India-U.S. partnership will be one of the “defining relationships of the 21st century”, one that he has had a strong belief in as U.S. Vice-President in the Obama administration. The phrase mirrored the one used by U.S. President Barack Obama at the state banquet for former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2009 — one of the “defining partnerships of the 21st century” — denoting the consistent strengthening of ties over the first two decades of the century. The visit by Mr. Modi, his first state visit to the U.S., has not disappointed votaries of the relationship. The two sides announced new deals involving high-end defence cooperation, semiconductor industry investments, and a partnership in quantum and advanced computing and AI. The deal for co-production of jet engines in India — White House called it “trailblazing” — will involve an unprecedented level of technology transfer. India’s decision to join the 11-nation mineral security partnership for critical minerals, where China has a global monopoly, and cooperation on critical and emerging technologies, particularly in clean energy, will strengthen future cooperation here. Finally, India’s move to sign on to the 27-nation Artemis Accords for cooperation in space exploration, and the NASA-ISRO partnerships for human spaceflight will also catapult India’s ambitions in the sphere.
It is significant that areas of discord, such as the differences in policies towards Russia’s war in Ukraine, and confrontation with China, where New Delhi has been more diffident, were sidestepped. Perhaps more difficult to sidestep were increasingly loud questions over the state of democracy and human rights in India, which 75 U.S. members of the Congress raised in a letter to Mr. Biden. While some uber-liberal Democrat lawmakers took the extreme step of boycotting Mr. Modi’s address to the joint session of Congress, it would be harder to ignore the pointed words from Mr. Obama in an interview the same day, on India’s minority rights. Eventually, Mr. Modi’s response, in a rare press availability with Mr. Biden, dismissed some misgivings over his administration — he denied alleged discrimination against minorities and a crackdown on dissent. Rights issues are not a bilateral concern, and with his warm welcome, Mr. Biden made it clear he did not share the concern. If Mr. Modi wishes to address public concerns, however, he may find it more effective to make the case in a press conference on his return, emphasising his belief that “if there are no human values and there is no humanity, there are no human rights, then it cannot be called a democracy”.