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The Bromance Between President Obama and Prime Minister Modi

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama concluded their three day visit to India this week - their first sojourn to the South Asian country since the swearing in to office of Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Prime Minister Modi is a friend of ours here at the Global Poverty Project rocking-out at the Global Citizen concert in September 2014). Concerts aside, the U.S. and Indian global partnership is critical, not only because of both nations’ mutual support of democracy, but because of the countries’ linked economic involvement. Despite a somewhat sluggish start to the United States’s diplomatic focus on India, the trip signals a shift in the two countries’ political ties. President Obama’s visit focused on a series of bilateral agreements (or in layman’s terms - an exchange of promises) with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

What is clear from the visit, is the Modi and Obama have a lot of chemistry. The affections between the two leaders, who were documented bear-hugging, calling one another by their first names, and laughing together, was dubbed a “bromance” by the Indian press (a.k.a.: “Mobama”).

Despite the festivities, the trip wasn’t all fun-and-games. Below is a recap of the important trip:

Feeling the Love

Modi at Global Citizen Festival, Image Global Citizen

While calling the relationship between the two leaders a “bromance” might be taking things a bit far, the visit is seen as a warming between the two nations. Prime Minister Modi was recently in Washington during September, so it’s significant that President Obama would visit India so soon after the Indian politicians visit to the U.S. Additionally, the trip is significant because it has made Obama the first United States president to travel to India twice while in office. The two can’t seem to get enough of one another!

Historic Breakthroughs

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Why is this trip so important? India has been aloof from regional politics and has favored being non-aligned with politics in the Southeastern Sea region, so the extension of an invitation from Prime Minister to President Obama is viewed as a breakthrough in India-US relations. This warming is somewhat unexpected - considering Prime Minister Modi was barred from travel to the United States for over ten years. But, the narrative is shifting, as Prime Minister Modi makes a strategic embrace with the United States.

The Tangible Take-Aways From the Trip Were Largely Symbolic

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For the first time ever, leaders between India and the United States addressed the Indian people in a joint-radio program. The significance of this event is massive as for years the Indian relationship with the United States has been downplayed by Indian policy makers. This trip signifies a renewed, public friendship between the two nations.

Cleaning Monkeys Off the Street

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Delhi’s population of stray monkeys was cleaned up for President Obama’s visit, with Indian senior government officials saying the animals were an “infestation.” Before President Obama’s arrival, men with slingshots worked to frighten aways the hundreds of rosy-bottomed monkeys surrounding President Modi’s sandstone palace. (I, on a personal note, am frightened by monkeys, so I applaud the Indian’s governments efforts).

Cooperation in the Fight Against Climate Change

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Thus far, India has been largely disengaged from climate change issues, citing that the nation’s industrialization is behind other large carbon emitters, such as the United States and China. But that’s all about to change. President Obama and Prime Minister Modi have agreed to work together over the next several months in preparation for < a href = ""/>the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. India has agreed to stop the use of hydrochloride carbon emissions, and the United States has agreed to help fund clean energy development.

The 66th Republic of India Day Celebrations

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President Obama became the first U.S. head of state to attend India's annual Republic Day parade, which marks the day the country adopted its constitution. The occasion, despite taking place in the rain, was still a jaunty affair, complete with camels, stuntman, military hardware, and dancing school children.

Incentivizing Trade and Investment in Global Partnership

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Here’s the low-down: During President Obama’s Administration, trade between India and the United States has increased dramatically- by about 60 percent. But it’s still billions of dollars less than the amount of trade the US does with China. At President Obama’s urging, the Prime Minister agreed to a series of additional steps that will be taken to guarantee more than $4 billion in trade in India, and support for more jobs in both the United States and India. Check out the President’s full remarks here.

Agreement on Nuclear Energy in India

President Obama and Prime Minister Modi reached an “understanding” on the liability of U.S. companies in the event of a nuclear accident. In a tenetaitive agreement made on Sunday evening, Prime Minister Modi opened India to U.S. firms investing in commercial nuclear power, a step that emphasizes improved bilateral relations.

While some may ask, myself included, whether or not the United States’ relationship with India is a strategy to counterweight the rise of China, both President Obama and Prime Minister Modi have made clear this isn’t the case. While it is true that India wants to see United States’ involvement in Asia, in particular because of the growing dominance of China, one of the major aims of the partnership between the two nations seems to be showing the world that development and democracy are not mutually exclusive.

Geopolitically, the partnership between India and the US is important, because it means not only that the United States will have a continued presence in Asia (despite China wanting the U.S. to butt out of the region), but that India will have access to U.S. allies in the area, such as Japan and Australia, and continue to develop its relationships with other South Asian nations. Despite tepid relationships between the United States and India in past years, it’s clear that the countries’ affair with one another is heating up. Both nations are serious about taking the relationship to the next level. May the bromance keep going strong, Mobama!


Kathleen Ebbitt