(Adds detail from parade and background)
NEW DELHI Jan 26 (Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama
watched a dazzling parade of India’s military might and cultural
diversity on Monday, the second day of a visit trumpeted as a
chance to establish a robust strategic partnership between the
world’s two largest democracies.
It rained on the parade through the heart of New Delhi, but
excitement nevertheless ran high over Obama’s landmark visit,
which began on Sunday with a clutch of deals and ‘bromance’
bonding with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The two leaders announced plans to unlock billions of
dollars in nuclear trade and to deepen defence ties.
Most significant was an agreement on two issues that,
despite a groundbreaking 2006 pact, had stopped U.S. companies
from setting up nuclear reactors in India and had become one of
the major irritants in bilateral relations.
« Mobama breaks N-deadlock, » the Mail Today newspaper said on
its front page, which carried a photograph of Modi and Obama
hugging each other warmly.
The bonhomie was a remarkable spectacle, given that a year
ago Modi was persona non grata in Washington and was banned from
visiting the United States for nearly a decade after deadly
Hindu-Muslim riots in a state he governed.
Obama is the first U.S. president to attend India’s Republic
Day parade, an annual show of military prowess that was long
associated with the anti-Americanism of the Cold War.
A cheer went up as he and the first lady, Michelle Obama,
stepped out of their car and walked up to the viewing dais.
Obama then sat behind a rain-spotted screen with Modi as the
parade unfolded along Rajpath, an elegant lawn-bordered
boulevard dating from the British colonial era that connects the
presidential palace to India Gate. Helicopters showered petals
on the crowds, and then tanks, missiles, stiffly saluting
soldiers, brass bands and dancers filed past the guests.
Security was tight at the parade and across the city, where
tens of thousands of police and paramilitary personnel were
deployed on street corners and rooftops.
Obama’s presence at the parade – at Modi’s personal
invitation – marks the latest upturn in a roller-coaster
bilateral relationship that just a year ago was in tatters.
Bickering over protectionism culminated in a fiery
diplomatic spat in 2013 and the abrupt departure of the U.S.
ambassador from New Delhi, who has only just been replaced.
COUNTERWEIGHT TO CHINA
The United States views India as a vast market and potential
counterweight in Asia to a more assertive China, but has
frequently been frustrated with the slow pace of New Delhi’s
economic reforms and unwillingness to side with Washington in
Elected last May, Modi has injected a new vitality into the
economy and foreign relations and, to Washington’s delight, has
begun pushing back against China across Asia.
« The larger goal that the United States should be pursuing
here is to convince India to join a coalition of democracies to
balance China’s rise, » former U.S. ambassador to Beijing Jon
Huntsman and the South Asia Center’s acting director, Bharath
Gopalaswamy, wrote in a joint opinion piece for Reuters.
« Although it won’t be publicised, this topic will likely be
ever-present in their private conversations. »
The two leaders emerged from their talks on Sunday with a
10-year framework for defence ties and deals on cooperation that
included the joint production of drone aircraft and equipment
for Lockheed Martin Corp’s C-130 military transport
Other deals ranged from an Obama-Modi hotline – India’s
first at a leadership level – to financing initiatives aimed at
helping India use renewable energy to lower carbon intensity.
Obama also enjoyed a close friendship with Modi’s
predecessor Manmohan Singh, who staked his premiership on the
controversial nuclear deal that made India the sixth
« legitimate » atomic power and marked a high point in Indo-U.S.
The deal failed to deliver on a promise of business for U.S.
companies because of India’s reluctance to shield suppliers from
liability, a deviation from international norms that reflects
the memory of the Bhopal industrial disaster.
Sounding a sour note amid the celebrations, President Pranab
Mukherjee gave a stern assessment of India 65 years after it
declared itself a republic, criticising parliamentary
dysfunction and the overuse of decrees.
In a Republic Day address on Sunday, India’s largely
ceremonial president was also scathing about rampant violence
against women in the world’s second most populous nation.
Mukherjee said the opposition should debate laws responsibly
rather than disrupting the houses of parliament, and warned
Modi’s government against governing by decree.
He was referring to 10 « ordinances » issued by Modi,
including ones to raise the foreign investment limit in
insurance, auction coal mines and ease land acquisitions.
Modi issued the decrees after opposition parties prevented
parliament from functioning in protest at comments against
religious minorities made by members of his Hindu nationalist