What about "shared values" that Obama and Modi have flaunted? They help in dealing with a shabby world but only up to a point. The pragmatist in Modi knows that since India is China's neighbor, it is imperative to calm a neighbor's angst -- and the angst of distant neighbors -- rather than to merely revel in the effusive cordiality of a country located beyond the seven seas. The basic instincts of the two ancient civilizations might yet astound the world.
Given the difficulty in achieving a breakthrough in any of the major problem areas, why is Obama going to India? What does he hope to achieve? I think the primary objective is to reinforce the strategic nature of the relationship by finding ways to enlarge the scope for joint action that are not dependent on what happens at the transactional end.
Picture an ancient city full of intricately carved stone temples, where millions of pilgrims and ascetics come to bathe in the holy waters of the Ganges, as Hindus have done for hundreds of generations. Now, imagine that the holy water of the Ganges is being monitored by electronic sensors to detect pollution levels, and the lights illuminating the streets and houses of this city are fitted with motion sensors and calibrated to save energy.
As intensified globalization has increased the spatial distance between Indians, they are thronging towards online platforms that offer a sense of kinship and community. To Indians, both within and outside India, the Internet is an alternative public sphere to hold discourses with those who share a similarity of interests. Social networking sites also offer them a platform to assert their identity, culture and political inclination.
India and China both see themselves as having outgrown a world order dominated by the West. They are moving beyond traditional bromides like their joint advocacy of the "Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence," to pragmatic cooperation in the framework of the BRICS grouping. They recently came together to announce the creation of the BRICS Bank, which will be located in Shanghai and headed by an Indian.