Given the state of drift in Indo-US ties since 2010, do we need a reboot?

We don't need a reboot, but we are literally starting from scratch as the US had no relations with Narendra Modi for over a decade. So the US is starting from a disadvantage as it waited till the last minute to refresh and reorient its Modi strategy and the president and the cabinet would have to go that extra mile to make a good start.

Milan Vaishnav
Vaishnav’s primary research focus is the political economy of India, and he examines issues such as corruption and governance, state capacity, distributive politics, and electoral behavior.
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The hangover from the last few years of the UPA government has made people in the US government upset with the lack of momentum from India towards US and its economic performance. There is now some cautious optimism about the Indian economy getting back on track and Modi's active foreign policy engagements. Most people are encouraged by Modi's first few months, but are waiting to see more details.

Washington is in a mood to strike up new deals with India and is eager to seize the window of opportunity with a new government. The bureaucracy realises this is an important moment, but we need leadership at the highest level to champion this.

What is Washington's take on the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal being a non-starter?

They feel that they have been left hanging and there is no return on investment on this front. But since the Modi government is business-friendly and focused on energy security, it may find a way to revisit the civil nuclear liability laws or find a loophole that allows investors to come in.

What are the areas where Modi and Obama could make a fresh start?

The biggest potential clearly is in defence, which is a key component of the 'Make In India' pitch unveiled by the PM. The two countries could look at co-production and development of defence technologies. On energy, India is keen to get shale exports from the US, but the tricky part is the US would like a commitment on climate change in return. Thirdly, given the PM's focus on skilling the youth to realise India's demographic dividend, India must consider legislative changes to allow US universities to come in. The US could also help India's drive to build smart cities and improve sanitation, with its expertise.

United Nations General Assembly

One open question is whether Modi is pro-business, where incumbents are favoured and there are no big changes in FDI or privatisation policies, or promarkets, which would raise FDI, expedite privatisation and weaken incumbents. It's too early, but one can sense that he is more pro-business from some of his initial decisions. US firms are also curious about why Modi isn't bringing a delegation of Indian businesses along.

What are the signals you would look for, from the PM's address to the United Nations General Assembly?

We would like to see his Pakistan policy after the cancellation of foreign secretary level talks. US understands India's position and Pakistan's internal problems, but would like to know what's next. There is also a lingering concern about secularism as people find the 'love jihad' campaign troubling, though Modi is not associated with it. He has made progressive comments about Indian Muslims for the international audience, but he didn't condemn Yogi Adityanath's statements at home.

This article was originally published in the Economic Times.