India and the United States will attempt to reset their ties during the upcoming visit by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Thursday's talks will be the first high-level interaction between the two countries since a right-wing government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge in late May.
For months, India-U.S. ties have grabbed headlines for the wrong reasons: Washington’s denial of a visa to the Hindu nationalist leader who is now India’s prime minister, and an ugly spat over an Indian diplomat’s arrest in New York last December.
But the mood is more positive as the Bharatiya Janata Party government prepares to host Kerry for the fifth India-U.S. Strategic Dialogue, which will begin later this week.
The issue of the visa denial was set to rest after Modi’s election, when the U.S. government reached out to him and invited him to visit Washington in September.
Chintamani Mahapatra, a professor at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, recalled that a previous BJP government laid the foundation for a closer India-U.S. relationship 15 years ago. He expects Modi, who is widely regarded as a pragmatic leader, to do the same.
“Again the BJP is in power, they have history behind it, so they will improve relationship with the U.S.A with the sole aim of bettering India’s economic and defense capabilities and political credibility," Mahapatra said.
Indian leaders are expected to pitch for more U.S. investment and trade as they look to restore the economy to a high-growth path.
However, Manoj Joshi at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi pointed out that persisting disputes between the two countries over issues such as trade, protectionism and patents pose as roadblocks.
“Indian expectations are basically on the development front, because the focus of the Modi government is really on the issue of economic development," Joshi said. He noted the U.S. and India "have a certain number of problems" regarding the World Trade Organization and issues of intellectual property rights. "Certainly the Indian side would be expecting that the U.S. can be more helpful in those areas.”
Mahapatra remains optimistic, saying such differences exist between the best of partners.
“These are going to be part of the process. they are not going to hurt, they are not going to break the relationship, but rather they will be part of the challenges that the two countries need to sort out through dialogue of the kind that John Kerry is going to hold," he said.
In India, concerns also are running high that the withdrawal of international combat troops from Afghanistan could lead to a spike in terrorist violence in the region.
Joshi said this is a potential problem for a government stressing the need for security in South Asia.
“India has certain regional aspirations, certain regional policy, which the Modi government has been very active on," he noted. " I think certainly when it comes to countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan, the government of India would appreciate a U.S. policy which could promote stability in the region.”
The venue for the India-U.S. Strategic Dialogue was shifted from Washington to New Delhi to give American officials an opportunity to meet top leaders of the BJP government.
Most observers expect that the dialogue will give some momentum to the relationship, but they don't expect any quick progress.