Government looks at Narendra Modi’s charisma to strike deals with Obama

New Delhi,Iftikhar Gilani (dna): Even as the ‘fortress’ Delhi awaits US President Barack Obama, as well as First Lady Michelle Obama, officials here are banking on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s charisma to strike deals on key issues during the informal talks.

It has appeared over past few days that glitches continue to haunt officials from both sides over a range of issues including climate change, totalisation, Visa, labour laws and intellectual property right (IPR), new defence cooperation agreement or revisiting liability regimes in the nuclear energy issue. The Prime Minister will get opportunities at least seven times during the next three days to hold informal discussions with the visiting US President, besides a formal bilateral dialogue that takes place in Hyderabad House here Sunday afternoon. Both will come face-to-face at least on seven different occasions between Sunday and Tuesday.

Experts here believe Modi will also have to do a fine balancing act between regaling Americans and not succumbing to their pressures with regard to Russia. India has so far refused to back the sanctions imposed against Moscow in the wake of its abetment of pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine. Diplomatic sources here also said that with President Obama addressing India’s core concerns by warning Pakistan to shut down terrorist safe havens and US secretary of state John Kerry’s deft diplomacy in Islamabad following his talks with the PM in Gujarat earlier this month, leads one to believe that Americans would be in search of some quid pro quo. Following Kerry’s visit, intelligence sources here have reported some crack Pakistan Army units relocating from Indo-Pakistan border to the borders with Afghanistan.

The government, as well as the ruling BJP, currently in thick of Delhi elections, is also looking at clinching a couple of agreements, which may include the renewal of the US-India Defence Partnership Agreement. The pact is expected to incorporate a range of new clauses and provisions aimed at attracting investments – with the ‘Make in India’ project and the possibility it holds for creating jobs. But the glitch in the deal remains the American insistence to incorporate a new clause on military alliance, which is being interpreted as US forces, henceforth, will be automatically entitled to refuel or seek bases on Indian soil, for their operations in the vicinity, thus ending New Delhi’s long-standing non-aligned posturing.

The issue had come up a decade ago too, when the framework agreement was first signed for 10 years in July 2005 when President Pranab Mukherjee was the defence minister. Mukherjee had put his foot down on the Pentagon insistence on signing of the “foundational agreements” in lieu of the framework. While the 2005 agreement laid out the basis for a relationship during which the US has supplied $10-billion worth of weapons to India — and Indian forces have been in wargames with the American military more than 70 times, it had not committed India to sign the “foundational agreements”.

Sources say Prime Minister Narendra Modi, however, had asked the defence ministry to examine the non-papers on the “logistic support agreement” (LSA) that was not signed by the previous government by seeking clarifications all the time in view of its implications. The non-paper is a diplomatic instrument to pursue the parties to sign the agreement. The agreement enables various types of transactions between the US military and friendly militaries. The agreement by itself alone does not give the US the right to base its military on foreign soil, but it grants it access to military stations of signatory countries.

A top source in the government said Modi’s understanding is that the LSA will remove the obstacles to larger transfer of technology and weapons to India. “Let us say that while the last agreement centred around the DPG (India-US defence policy group), this one will be giving DTTI (defence trade and technology initiative) a lot of attention,” the source said.

The other issues the government is looking at is to bridge differences over the nuclear liability law. Any deal on this will address India’s power needs and to PM’s dream to electrify all villages in the country. “Nuclear power is the one that Modiji regards as clean and green and fastest to generate and transmit, more than solar power,” a source said.

President Barack Obama will become the first President of the United States to attend India’s Republic Day parade on January 26. But more importantly, it will also be his first visit to India since the National Democratic Alliance swept to power led by Narendra Modi. Among other issues being sorted out are Transfer Pricing Agreement, to resolve trade disputes. This will address major concerns of multinational companies in their tax disputes and transfer pricing payments. Another major issue relates to Visa, labour laws and intellectual property right (IPR). While Indian companies, have problems with the US tightening visa regime, the US companies, have been demanding changes in Indian labour laws, which currently make it hard for employers to hire or let go of employees easily. US companies also have differences with Indian intellectual property rights, which they feel allow Indian companies to get around global patent regimes. There are also no meeting grounds in climate change talks as well, especially after they collapsed over severe differences in Lima.

Meanwhile, health activists have asked the government to protect India’s patent laws that allow drug companies to sell inexpensive generic medicine. The patent law in India prohibits patents on minor variations, which is being opposed by multinational drug companies.