As Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi heads to the United States for a state visit this week, officials in both countries expressed optimism about a trip that is being billed as a milestone in relations between the two countries.
Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said that the Indo-U.S. relationship has come a "long way."
"You can look at the technology part of the relationship, you can look at the trade in the relationship, you can look at the political convergence, and you can look at the strategic interests. So, I think there is a very compelling case for stronger and stronger India-U.S. relations," Jaishankar told reporters last week.
The most compelling case, analysts say, is the rise of China. Modi visits the United States as India’s fraying ties with Beijing following a three-year-long military standoff along their disputed Himalayan borders have prompted New Delhi to drop previous hesitations and work closely with Washington in Asia as it seeks to counterbalance an increasingly assertive Beijing.
"The strategic landscape in the Indo-Pacific has changed very dramatically and there is recognition both in Washington and New Delhi that they need to work ever so closely to stabilize the situation," said Harsh Pant, vice president, studies and foreign policy, at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi.
"That strategic clarity has meant that for India strengthening ties with a like-minded country like the U.S. has become a strategic imperative," he said.
Giving India access to advanced defense technologies, including coproduction of weapons, is expected to be a key takeaway during Modi’s visit. This could include an agreement to produce jet engines by General Electric for military aircraft in India according to a Reuters report. The two countries are also discussing the possible purchase of U.S.-made armed drones by India.
Analysts say the defense partnership is being shored up as Washington wants to build India’s military capabilities.
"The Americans are looking to strengthen India as a counterweight to China, so they want to support India’s military modernization," according to Sreeram Chaulia, dean of the Jindal School of International Affairs. "That is why both sides have removed some of the cobwebs that existed and are saying we have the same adversary, and we need to cooperate a lot more to push back this shared adversary."
He said that from India’s standpoint also there are question marks over the viability of Russia as a military supplier, which for decades provided the bulk of Indian military hardware, to provide India with advanced weapons as it is weakened by Western sanctions.
The groundwork for Modi’s visit has been laid by recent high-level visits by U.S. officials to India. Earlier this month, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the two countries are setting a roadmap for defense industrial cooperation.
Modi is also expected to meet top business leaders in Washington as he tries to woo American companies amid U.S. efforts to diversify supply chains beyond China in critical areas such as semiconductors.
Building factories in India however has not been easy with U.S. businesses often complaining of regulatory and bureaucratic hurdles.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan, on a visit to New Delhi, told an Indian business forum Tuesday that both countries are engaged in efforts to facilitate trade.
"A number of the deliverables at that [Modi] visit are not just bullet points on a page. They are fundamentally designed to remove those obstacles in defense trade, in high-tech trade, in investment in each of our countries in taking away obstacles," according to Sullivan.
The areas in which the two countries aim to deepen cooperation include quantum computing, artificial intelligence and 5G wireless networks — areas in which China has acquired a dominating position.
The visit will include all the pomp and ceremony that accompanies state visits – the last state visit by an Indian prime minister to Washington took place in 2009. Modi will also address a joint session of the U.S. Congress – the second time he will be doing it since he took power nine years ago.
In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, addressing the U.S.-India Business Council on Monday, expressed optimism about the visit.
"So, we are here almost literally on the eve of what we believe will be a historic state visit by Prime Minister Modi, one that will further solidify what President Biden has called the defining relationship of the 21st century."
However, amid shifting geopolitics, the two countries are not always on the same page. India has strongly defended maintaining friendly ties with Russia in the aftermath of its Ukraine aggression. In recent months, Moscow has become New Delhi’s biggest crude oil supplier as India snaps up supplies of cheap energy.
Critics have also expressed concerns about democratic backsliding in India, accusing the Modi administration of stifling dissent and divisive policies that discriminate against Muslims and other minorities. In its latest annual report on human rights practices, the U.S. State Department also highlighted challenges to freedom of expression and violence targeting religious and ethnic minorities in India. New Delhi rejected the report calling it flawed and biased.
But analysts say the effort by both countries during Modi’s visit will be to build on common interests while managing their differences as the two countries focus on the big picture of countering China.
"When the Ukraine war started there was a lot of concern that it will derail the relationship and the two countries are going in different directions," Pant said.
"But the relationship has continued to grow, it fact it has become more vibrant. I think that is because there is a new recognition that with all the challenges that India faces, it is a good bet and Washington needs to cultivate India," he said.