Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s upcoming state visit to the United States has sparked curiosity and controversy amid Modi’s alleged human rights abuses and divisive policies. While India’s foreign minister has expressed a worldview involving “frenemies,” emphasizing the absence of true allies, President Joe Biden views India as a crucial partner in addressing global challenges such as climate change, artificial intelligence disruptions, and China’s growing power in the Indo-Pacific region.
Biden aims to strengthen ties with India as part of his administration’s focus on Asia and building partnerships in the face of a rising China. Meanwhile, Modi seeks to fulfill his promise of bringing prosperity to India and boosting economic and military cooperation with the United States. Concerns over Chinese military activities along the border and in the Indian Ocean have further motivated India’s interest in a closer relationship with the U.S.
Despite these shared interests, Biden faces challenges regarding human rights concerns. Human Rights Watch and other organizations have called on Biden to address India’s deteriorating human rights situation. They point to Modi’s role in the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat and the recent passage of legislation excluding Muslims from fast-tracked naturalization. However, the Indian government has defended its human rights record.
Another issue in play is India’s increasing reliance on cheap Russian oil since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Although the U.S. has privately urged India to reduce its dependence on Russian oil, Biden’s administration has taken a cautious approach to avoid jeopardizing the broader U.S.-India relationship. Nonetheless, India has shown some signs of moving away from Russia.
Trade between the U.S. and India reached a record high in 2022, and defense sales have increased significantly. The state visit will include discussions on deepening defense cooperation and partnerships in higher education and space exploration. However, it may take decades for India to reduce its reliance on Russian military equipment, which currently constitutes 65% of its defense inventory.
Overall, the U.S.-India relationship holds promise and importance for both countries. While critics highlight human rights concerns and India’s ties to Russia, Biden sees India as a key partner in addressing major global challenges and countering China’s influence. The state visit represents an opportunity for both leaders to advance their respective agendas and strengthen the partnership.
The Associated Press contributed to this report