By Christian OTTON
NEW DELHI: Barack Obama arrives in India this weekend for an unprecedented second visit by a serving US president, the honoured guest of his new friend Narendra Modi who was a Washington outcast only a year ago.
As well as holding bilateral talks, the leaders of the world’s two largest democracies will address CEOs, appear on a radio phone-in and watch a spectacular parade together in a visit that underscores their closeness.
The US president and wife Michelle will also travel to the Taj Mahal, with hundreds of photographers on hand to snap the first couple’s visit to the ultimate monument to love.
Obama’s courtship of Prime Minister Modi is evident from his three-day itinerary, the first time an incumbent president has returned to India.
While recent swings through Asia have included multiple stopovers, India is Obama’s only destination this time, despite the risk of offending neighbouring Pakistan.
“There’s no question this is a defining time in the US-India relationship,” US Ambassador Richard Verma said in New Delhi Wednesday. “Things not only feel different, they are different.”
Modi’s election in May 2014 was a potential headache for the US, which had blacklisted the Hindu nationalist for more than a decade after deadly communal riots in Gujarat when he was state chief minister.
He was only brought in from the cold last February when Verma’s predecessor travelled to Gujarat once it appeared Modi was likely to end the centre-left Congress party’s 10-year rule.
The transformation since has been spectacular, with both men heartened by their meeting of minds on a range of issues in Washington in September.
The US website Politico described their summit as a “love-in” and predicted Modi could become “America’s new best buddy”.