The two leaders met for a private dinner in the east wing of the White House which serves as the residence of the commander-in-chief and chief executive. They set the ball rolling in the expectation that a vision and a road map for Indo-US relations can be rolled out for the next five years of Modi’s government and the remaining two years of Obama’s presidency.
In this effort, Modi received a shot in the arm as he departed from New York for America’s capital. Although the US Congress is not in session, John Boehner, Speaker of the House of Representatives, is flying down from his home state of Ohio for meeting Modi on Tuesday afternoon.
It will be a full meeting in the conference room of the Speaker’s chamber where Boehner will be joined by the senior leadership of the House from both parties. It will not be lost on any recalcitrant elements within the Obama administration that Modi enjoys full backing on Capitol Hill in his effort to reset and re-launch Indo-US relations.
Evidence of this will be that an array of leaders, including Nancy Pelosi, the previous Democratic Speaker, are flying in from as far as America’s west coast for Tuesday’s meeting. Originally, Modi was to have addressed a joint session of the US Congress, but both chambers of the legislature are in recess.
Many of the stalwarts on Capitol Hill are fighting with their backs to the wall to retain their seats in the November mid-term elections to the entire House and one third of the Senate. Yet, many of the leaders will take time off their campaigns to meet Modi for an hour, proving that India enjoys bipartisan support on Capitol Hill.
A meeting to watch out for on Tuesday will be between defence secretary Chuck Hagel and Modi. With the nuclear deal in limbo, the Americans would be satisfied if there is progress on co-operation in defence between the two sides.
Notwithstanding high-sounding declarations of principles and strategy, the Pentagon is interested basically in transactional progress: there are indications that the Modi government is willing to take a more positive look at buying American weapons which the military industrial complex will translate into signs of progress in bilateral interactions.
The gala reception that Modi was accorded at New York’s Madison Square Garden yesterday will stand him in good stead as he begins his work in Washington. Official America, both its executive — which is mostly made up of political appointees unlike in India — and its legislature have learned to respect leaders with popular support.
Modi demonstrated yesterday that he has sweeping and widespread support among a three million strong community of Americans. What is important is that this community, Indian Americans, has an average household income of $88,000. This figure is double the average income of other Americans.
This country respects money and once they realise that such money is on Modi’s call, given a level playing field, of course, they will respect Modi too.
So his “campaign” in New York since arriving in the US to mobilise support among Indian Americans will pay off in Washington in the next leg of the Prime Minister’s visit.
Newspapers across the country today described Modi in terms of having acquired a rock star-like status during his stay in the Big Apple. Additionally, Modi demonstrated in New York that he is as much a serious politician who is not interested merely in cultivating his compatriots.
A meeting in New York with Nobel laureate Harold Varmus, director of the National Cancer Institute of America, has gone down well. Professor Varmus was an intern in Bareilly in the 1960s and because he had nice things to say about India after he met Modi on Friday, the Prime Minister’s stock went up too.
Similarly, New York mayor Bill de Blasio was plainly surprised that Modi had detailed knowledge of this city’s plans to build half-a-million houses over a decade and how that public housing project will be financed. Modi quizzed the mayor closely on the scheme in the context of India’s own housing needs for the poor.
- The Telegraph, Calcutta