New York: India and the US are realising that an equitable bilateral partnership is a win-win for both countries and their people, USISPF President and CEO Mukesh Aghi said. He also underlined that India is providing de-risking for US companies from China to manufacture in the country and is a growing market for American goods.
Ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's State Visit to the US next week, the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF) chief recalled that during his earlier address to a joint session of the Congress in 2016, the Indian leader had stressed for the two countries to overcome the hesitation of history.
"What we are seeing on both sides, we are basically burying the past, the 1998 nuclear sanction and other aspects. Both countries are realising that an equitable partnership is a win-win both for the people of India and the people of United States," Aghi said in an exclusive interview. "But more than that, these are two democracies, which look at the international order and (are) trying to maintain that order itself. From a geopolitical perspective, economic perspective and from a technology perspective and people-to-people perspective, it is a partnership which is win-win for both sides," he said.
Aghi described the current times as "exciting" for Indo-US relations, saying after 75 years of independence, India is on a development path. "It is a win-win partnership where US companies are also one of the biggest investors in India," he said, adding that American companies are now setting up research and development centres and moving into innovation centres in India.
"What we're seeing is that the partnership is elevating. There is more and more trust happening. Yes, there's maturity, we will have disagreement," he said, citing the example of India's oil purchases from Russia. "But both (sides) have accepted those issues and moved on looking at the bigger challenges and opportunities. The relationship is growing to bigger heights, and you'll see more success coming in as we move forward," Aghi added.
Modi will be welcomed as a State Guest in Washington DC on June 22 by President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden. He will address a joint session of the US Congress the same day, the first Indian Prime Minister to be accorded the honour twice. Modi first addressed a joint meeting of the US Congress in June 2016. The President and the First Lady will host Modi at a State Dinner on June 22.
Modi will address corporate leaders at a special event hosted by USISPF on June 23 at the Kennedy Centre in Washington DC that is expected to be attended by over 1,200 business leaders and the focus will be on India's importance from an investment perspective, he said.
On the challenges and opportunities for the two countries, Aghi said, on the geopolitical aspect, India's neighbour China "has taken a very aggressive and assertive posture towards India. It does not treat India as an equal partner."
"India needs at least 20 years of economic growth moving forward and that means it needs (an) alignment to deal with the aggressive neighbour itself and that's where the US comes in. From a US perspective, India's one country which has stood up to China, eyeball-to-eyeball on its border, and has not blinked. It sends a strong message that India can stand up to Chinese aggression," he said. With a population of 1.4 billion and an economy that is growing at about seven per cent and is over USD 3.75 trillion, India's economy provides an opportunity for US companies to look at it as a market.
Aghi cited the example of Apple, saying that three years ago it did not manufacture anything in India. Next year, Apple is going to manufacture 20 million iPhone 14s in India and move into the iPad and Macbook space as well. "What India is providing is a de-risking for US companies from China to manufacture in India and at the same time a growing market, which is going to procure American goods," he said.
He noted that USISPF operates on two broad principles that economic prosperity of India is good for the US and US companies. Secondly, a militarily strong India is good for regional stability. "So, that means India has to become self-sufficient", especially after the "debacle" of what is happening between Russia and Ukraine, he said.
"That's where Make in India becomes a very critical role in the defence sector and that's where you'll see the deliverables coming in from the US side," Aghi added. He referred to the expected announcement of the GE engine deal, India acquiring drones from the US and other aspects of defence procurement during Modi's visit.
"Where the US used to be reluctant providing some critical technologies to India, now they're willing to transfer the technology, not just only sell, to India. To me that shows that the trust factor, the dependence factor has moved dramatically," he said.
Terming trade as an opportunity between the two nations, Aghi stressed that India and the US should start thinking toward a goal of having a trillion-dollar trade between the two economies and added that it is "absolutely" doable. "That's where we both have to keep on working and you don't need a trade deal. I think if you just open up the market and make the ease of doing business easier, you will see things moving much, much faster," he said.
He noted that the challenge that the countries need to work on is immigration. "You have 1.2 million Indians waiting for the green card. We need to find a solution so (that) they become local residents, pay local taxes and become part of the society," Aghi said.
He noted that Modi is the only global leader who has got along "very well" with three US presidents -- Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Biden. "That shows his character, that shows his leadership style," Aghi said.
With Modi being invited to address a joint session of the US Congress for the second time, Aghi said addressing the US Congress is a "very, very important" event from a democracy perspective and from an international order perspective. He said when Modi addressed the US Congress in 2016, it sent a message "but now it sends a very strong message" as, on one hand, "you have a Democratic president inviting him for a State Dinner and you have a Republican Speaker of the House inviting him to speak at the Congress. So, you have bipartisan support" for Modi. He "will go down in history", being able to position himself very strongly with the US Congress and the US administration, Aghi said.