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India, traditionally, has invited its Republic Day guests who will not attract
controversy at home and come from countries with whom it has close strategic
Thus the heads of neither Pakistan nor China have been invited on the first
count. While no Latin American leaders have ever come for the second reason.
It says something about how difficult Indo-US relations have been that it has
taken over seven decades for Delhi to invite the US president to participate in
a ceremony marking its emergence as a full-fledged constitutional democracy.
While there is much focus on what diplomats call the "deliverables" substantive agreements and deals - that will emerge from the meeting, the
likelihood is that the symbolism will be much greater than the substance on
this visit.
Mr Obama and Mr Modi held a summit in September last year and the present
invitation was extended seemingly on the spur of the moment by Mr Modi
when the two met on sidelines of the East Asia Summit in Myanmar (Burma)
last November.
This has meant, officials on both sides admit, relatively little time to put
together a substantial agenda.
A better measure of the Republic Day summit's agenda will be the areas the
bilateral talks will focus on - defence, energy and counter-terrorism.
These are all in the sensitive zone of most governments and the depth of the
discussion in each of these underlines how close the two countries have
Contending interests
In defence, the spearhead of the relationship is less the business of selling and
buying arms than attempts by India and the US to jointly develop and produce
a new generation of weaponry.
This idea has been kicked around for several years between the two countries,
struggling to overcome political and bureaucratic resistance within both
The expectation is that at least one, if not more, such deals will be signed later

this month.
A few dozen possible technologies and weapon systems have been offered by
the US.
India is particularly interested in drones, carrier technology and so on that
enhance its ability to project its air and naval power.
In energy, the two governments are looking at contending interests improving the supply of fossil fuels and inhibiting climate change.
Mr Modi and Mr Obama are relatively unusual among world leaders in their
personal belief that global warming is an issue of overriding importance.
The US has thus been a strong supporter - though with some commercial
opportunities in mind - of the Indian government's ambitious plans for
renewable energy, especially solar. The September Indo-US summit was shot
through with green energy.
Mr Obama would like Mr Modi to give binding commitments on India's carbon
emissions, even ones as broad as the ones China agreed to recently.
But India has a troubled fossil fuel dependent power generation sector. It is
looking increasingly to the US for inexpensive natural gas - and has been
pushing for a long-term commitment by Washington to allow such imports.
The US, in return, will continue to push India to change a flawed nuclear
liability law that makes it difficult for the US and other countries to sell reactors
to an energy-starved India.
Neither issue is likely to be resolved during this summit, though there may be
discussion to that effect.
Intelligence sharing
Counter-terrorism is a particularly good measure of the strength of relations
for two reasons.
One, India continues to be wary of the degree of intelligence cooperation
between the US to India's regional rival, Pakistan. The more Indian and US
intelligence agencies work together, the less important the shadow of Pakistan
becomes to bilateral relations.
By all accounts, India and US already enjoy a very high level of intelligence
sharing on terrorism
Notably, when European governments were complaining about revelations of
widespread electronic surveillance by the US National Security Agency, a
terrorism-wary India reportedly asked the NSA to step up its eavesdropping

An area where the two sides are working more closely together, however, is
An ever more connected India is becoming more conscious of its vulnerabilities
in this area and understands the need for international support.
However, the spectacle that will accompany the Republic Day summit will
obscure the weakness of shared big strategic thinking between the two
The two leaders are extremely focused on domestic concerns, seeing foreign
policy as a sideshow to the economic and social agenda they have for their
own countries.
The two are on opposite sides when it comes to the US policies in Afghanistan
and Pakistan.
But they are increasingly on the same page when it comes to East Asia and
When Mr Obama takes the salute of marching Indian soldiers, these will not be
at the forefront of the summit agenda.
The symbolism of the event will undermine the other side of the geopolitical
coin: differences between India and the US pale in comparison to what brings
them together.