U.S. President Donald Trump visits India, shakes hand with Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Alexander Drago | Reuters

U.S. President Donald Trump’s first state visit to India signifies the growing strength of the bilateral relationship between Washington and New Delhi, a top member of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party said.

Trump kicked off his two-day state visit to India on Monday and has official engagements in New Delhi and Ahmedabad, the largest city in Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat.

His visit “signifies growing importance of India, number one, but also growing strength of the bilateral relationship,” Ram Madhav, national general secretary of the BJP, told CNBC’s Tanvir Gill on Saturday. He said India attaches “a lot of importance to this visit,” and the country is “very ambitious” to play a bigger role on a global stage.

One area where India and the U.S. have increased co-operation is defense procurement. Recently, India approved plans to purchase 24 military helicopters worth $2.6 billion from American defense firm Lockheed Martin for the Indian Navy, local media reported. New Delhi has inked more defense deals with Washington in recent years, even though, traditionally, India’s longstanding defense supplier had been Russia. Defense purchases from the U.S. since 2007 reached $17 billion, Reuters reported.

Madhav said defense deals done with the U.S. does not affect India’s pact with Russia.

“That relationship continues,” he said. “But, defense production is an area today where technology plays a very important role. In technology, U.S. companies definitely have advanced very much, it’s natural for us to look for certain important defense equipment from American companies.”

“It’s natural that today, technologies are there, so we naturally turn to countries which have technologies. That doesn’t mean we have changed our strategic preferences or anything like that,” he added.

Former Deputy Chief of Army Staff Gurmit Singh said India is on the cusp of transforming and modernizing its armed forces, and the country looks at all aspects of security — including its land borders and naval presence in the Indo-Pacific region.

Singh said it’s important the aggregate security apparatus of India is technologically up to par so that the country can monitor its own assets in the area. “The key aspect is that we should be able to carry out effective intelligence, surveillance, and domination of this area,” he said.

India was one of the top five military spenders in 2018, along with the United States, China, Saudi Arabia, and France.

Elsewhere, expectations of a trade deal between the two countries being announced during Trump’s visit are limited. The president last week said Washington is working on a “very big trade deal” with New Delhi, but that he wasn’t sure if it’ll be done before the November presidential election, according to a transcript released by the White House.

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