The stakes are considerably higher this time as Modi’s meet with US President Joe Biden comes in the aftermath of a shape-shifting year that has witnessed socioeconomic and political upheavals on an unprecedented scale. On Thursday, the PM caught up with business bigwigs in the US, in an attempt to showcase India’s potential as an investment destination. During his meeting with US Vice President Kamala Harris, the latter spoke highly about India’s commitment to upholding democracy, while discussing issues of common interest such as Afghanistan and Indo-Pacific relations. The PM’s three-day visit involves his participation in the Quad Leaders’ Summit on Friday and reviewing the India-US Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership with Biden. Modi was slated to conclude his visit with an address at the United Nations General Assembly where the primary areas of focus include tackling the coronavirus crisis, fighting terrorism, and mitigating the impact of climate change.
Modi had remarked earlier this week that the Quad summit would be an occasion for India to strengthen its strategic partnership with the member states such as US, Japan, and Australia. However, the meeting is foreshadowed by the creation of yet another alliance that has been a concern for India. The AUKUS alliance, which comprises of Australia, UK, and the US, is being seen by some analysts as a union of Anglo powers with the potential to undermine the efforts of the Quad, which is aimed at building an advantageous strategic and political rapport for nations in the Indo-Pacific region. This sense of exclusion has become prominent considering how India was kept at a distance, when it came to critical decisions involving its neighbouring nations, Afghanistan, being a case in point.
It is known how deeply India had been involved in the efforts of rebuilding Afghanistan after the end of the US’ War on Terror. But when it came to America’s withdrawal from Kabul after more than 20 years, India was nowhere on the negotiation table alongside the US, during the hand-over to the Taliban. This distancing of India from global affairs has also come to the fore as AUKUS does not view us as a strategic ally in the group that came together to thwart the advances of China. It seems like tokenism that India is part of the Quad as two major nations in this alliance (the US and Australia) are marching to the beats of their own drums.
It may be recalled that this week, Britain had excluded India from its list of nations whose citizens are exempted from quarantine upon landing in Britain. The development is being seen as an affront to India’s vaccine-making prowess and collectively to the trust enjoyed by us as a trade partner of repute. But then, this might be an opportune moment for Modi and his delegation, comprising External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, NSA Ajit Doval, and Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla to play up India’s potential in Indo-Pacific affairs, and the global arena in general. With regard to the Quad, the conversation up until now hinged on strategic and defense interests. That should now be extended to the industrial context. Considering that the volume of India’s total trade with its Quad partners exceeded $108 bn in 2020-21, business should receive even more focus, through the creation of diversified manufacturing hubs and supply chains.
What works for India at this point in time is its status as a beacon of democracy, and a potent partner to US, which faces challenges in the form of China’s growing expansionism and the breakdown of civic order in Afghanistan. It remains to be seen how Modi and Co utilise this chance to assert its presence on the global platform as a superpower in the making.