As President Biden and the US Congress prepare to welcome Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, I would like to share my thoughts on why I have never been more bullish on US-India relationship. While the media has made a big deal about the close bond that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had with former President Trump, the evidence shows that he has much more in common with President Joe Biden.
While there are significant differences in the personal challenges, cultural and social context and specific obstacles faced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Joe Biden during their childhood, they both share many similarities. Let’s examine the factors that unite the two leaders.
Modest Childhood Backgrounds:
Both Modi and Biden came from relatively modest backgrounds. Modi grew up in a small town in Gujarat, India, while Biden was raised in a working-class family in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Their families experienced severe financial constraints and as a result both men learned the value of hard work and perseverance from an early age.
Both leaders were influenced by their families during their formative years. Modi's working-class parents from the conservative state of Gujrat, India, instilled in him a sense of discipline and strong work ethic, while Biden's Irish American parents emphasized the importance of education, empathy, and public service.
Early Loss, Resilience, and Growth:
Both Modi and Biden faced personal tragedies during their childhood that required resilience to overcome. Modi lost his father at a young age, which added to the family's financial struggles. Biden also faced significant loss when his wife and daughter died in a car accident, which tested his strength and determination.
Overcoming Impediments & Commitment to Personal Growth:
Despite their challenging circumstances, both leaders recognized the importance of education and worked hard to pursue their academic goals. Modi displayed a keen interest in learning and completed his education while juggling various jobs, including famously as a “Chaiwallah” or tea vendor. Biden overcame his childhood speech impediment and went on to obtain a law degree, eventually entering politics.
Empathy and Compassion:
Both Modi and Biden developed a sense of empathy and compassion from their personal experiences. Modi's modest background and encounters with poverty and hardships shaped his concern for the welfare of the poor and marginalized. Biden's experiences with personal loss and his understanding of working-class struggles contributed to his focus on developing his legendary empathy and connecting with ordinary people.
Leadership Styles & Global Influence:
PM Modi has built a formidable reputation as a charismatic personality and his ability to connect with the masses. He is known for being a strong and decisive leader, as well as his communication skills and powerful oratory. Modi’s leadership style is characterized by a strong centralization of power and a focus on economic development ("Make in India" and "Digital India" are two notable examples) and strong national security. PM Modi has had notable success with his foreign policy efforts to strengthen India's relationships with other nations, enhancing India's global stature. However, questions have been raised about India’s tepid response to Russian invasion of Ukraine.
President Biden is famous for his empathetic and compassionate personality, ability to connect with people on an emotional level. President Biden defeated Trump in 2020 by leveraging his reputation as a consensus-builder and his focus on unity and healing. On the international stage President Biden emphasizes collaboration and multilateralism, a focus on climate change, healthcare reform, and economic recovery. This is why President Biden has had many big foreign policy wins including rejoining international agreements like the Paris Climate Agreement and revitalizing global alliances like UN, NATO, G7 and the QUAD. His leadership to rally global support for the people of Ukraine has been exemplary.
In full disclosure, my views are colored by my identity as an Indian American and an elected official of the Democratic party. Nevertheless, I have found myself disagreeing with some of the policies of the two leaders. Like me, even if you don't agree with all their policies and political views, few can disagree that both President Biden and PM Modi have been transformational leaders and elevated the status of their nations in the global arena.
President Biden had largely been true to his election promise to Restore the Soul of America. His successful COVID-19 vaccination campaign, followed by major legislative victories such as the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act, the $2 trillion American Jobs Plan and the 2021 American Families Plan that will invest $1.8 trillion in education, childcare, and healthcare, free community college- set the stage for the quick recovery of the US Economy.
By assembling and empowering an experienced economic development team, PM Modi has led India to become the #1 fastest growing Large Economy (9.5%); #1 in Digital Transactions; #1 in talent pool; and #1 in New Startups (with 1 unicorn every 9 days). None of this is a small feat, put together they are Transformational for India and for US-India relationship.
While I broadly agree with the consensus view that the relations between India and the United States is only bound to get better regardless of if it is a Democrat or Republican at the Oval Office, I am of the view that individual leaders matter as does the values, life lessons and personal chemistry they share. That is why I am bullish on US-INDIA relations.