Prime Minister Narendra Modi will find it is easy to engage with strong willed and business minded Trump
Prof M D Nalapat
Donald John Trump was elected the 45th President of the United States on November 8, 2016. Neither India's foreign policy establishment nor its media understood the shifts in the mood of most US voters since the 2008 financial crash, and consequently accepted as fact the stand of Wall Street media in the US, that Trump would never be able to defeat their favourite, Hillary Clinton. So confident was the Lutyens Zone in the received wisdom of their US counterpart, the Washington Beltway that several businesspersons and even a few hyper-rich politicians arranged for large sums to be gifted to entities connected with Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Although there were suggestions from outside the government in 2015 itself that a meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Republican Presidential
candidate Donald Trump be arranged, the Lutyens Zone refused, on the ground that the “inevitable winner” of the Presidential race, Hillary Clinton, would get offended. It should not be forgotten that those loyal to the Clintons in the Obama administration have invariably been hostile to India, with Trade Representative Michael Froman being an example. In particular, he has sought to snuff out India’s generic drugs industry, while creating obstacles to the movement of professions from this country to the US. Towards the close of the second term of Manmohan Singh, State Department officials whose promotion was fast-tracked by Hillary Clinton conducted a crusade against India, accusing the country of child slavery and worse. Even the Clinton- chosen Ambassador, Nancy Powell, participated in such calumny on
instructions from Washington, telling even her counterparts from Europe that they should jointly confront the Government of India on the matter. It will be remembered that such contempt for India resulted in an Indian diplomat in New York being arrested and strip searched on an improbable charge that was never taken seriously when made against diplomats of countries in Europe. During her tenure as Secretary of State, Hillary linton was vocal in internal meetings that the relationship with India was ‘oversold’. In her view, India was far less of a priority than Germany or China, although of course in public, several sugary compliments were paid to this country by her.
Hillary Clinton has a way with words that sound good but which lack
operational follow up. Despite the Clinton record of opposition to the core interests of India expressed in ways such as slowing down the flow of high technology to Delhi in a context where there was a flood of such technologies to China.
Trump won this election on the basis of four factors:
• Unease at Wahabbi terror and its spread across the globe, especially in the US
• Disquiet at rising levels of
Black-White violence in US cities
• Anger at the hollowing out of US manufacturing by Wall Street and its short-term focus
• Fear of China outflanking the US in multiple threatres
Unlike Hillary Clinton, whose
actual views on issues remain masked behind a screen of words and phrases written out for her by staff, Donald Trump himself is almost always fully refusing to be scripted.
From his speeches and talks, it is clear that Wahabbi terror and dealing with the exponential growth of Beijing’s influence around the world are among the most important public concerns of the new Head of State of the world’s most
powerful country. Crafting an appropriate antidote to both these concerns will require a robust partnership with India, especially now that the Government of India is led by Narendra Modi. Interestingly, Trump has reached out to Modi, not surprising in view of the fact that several of the top Indian American supporters of Trump are also fans of the Prime Minister. This is hardly a surprise. Both the leaders are strong willed and have endured calumny and hardship in their rise to the top. Unlike the Clintons, whose whole time profession of politics makes them extremely flexible in action, Donald Trump is a business person and therefore may be expected to be even more transactional than leaders of his country are. In such a context, Prime Minister Modi may need to consider whether India needs to look and act beyond its ongoing war with the ISI and act in a decisive way against ISIS as well. Because so many former and present
officers (‘on leave’) from the Pakistan Army are in training with ISIS, the two fronts are in fact fused together. India needs to deploy a squadron of frontline military aircraft to Iraq in order to assist in the US-led air war against terrorists being waged in parts of the country. Ideally, a second squadron needs to be sent to Syria, to assist Russia in its
operations against terror groups operating in that area. Such a division of assets would ensure that Delhi showcases its diplomatic and military autonomy
(linking separately with both Moscow and Washington) while at the same time playing a role in the war against terror groups beyond its present sub-continental preoccupations. At the same time, it would be helpful to military preparedness to sign the other two Foundation Agreements with the US, given that the Modi Government has signed one already, in contrast to the UPA, which lacked the courage or the conviction or both to sign any. At the same time, the Trump team needs to be shown details of the way in which the Pakistan Army is part of the terror problem rather than (as assumed by Bush and Obama) part of the solution. Some of President Obama’s staff worked to undermine security in Afghanistan by championing the cause of the Taliban. Such an error is unlikely to be made by President Trump.
Unlike Hillary Clinton, who is a Europeanist (i.e. a policymaker who sees events through a Euro-centric prism), incoming President Trump has a mindset which is through and through American. It must be remembered that the US is
culturally a quadricontinental country, with a foundation that is as Asian, African and Latin American as it is European. Given his practical way of working, it may be expected that President Trump will appreciate this, and seek to make anchor in Asia in the same depth as his country did in Europe for over a century, since the 1914-19 war. In such a context, given that America Firster Donald Trump is not likely to seek a Clinton model G-2 partnership with China, it follows that India will be a core priority. Thus far, largely due to roadblocks placed by Clinton holdovers prominent in the Obama administration and in the case of the earlier Bush administration, the
pro-Wahabbi lobby that danced to a Saudi beat, genuine partnerships in nuclear energy and space have been absent.
Should the US and India work together in thorium technology, a
breakthrough in this inexpensive energy source will come much faster than would be the case if both countries were to go solo. Donald Trump has to be shown the advantages to the US taxpayer should Indian pharma companies and healthcare majors are treated fairly rather than
discriminated against. Understanding the difference between super skilled
brainpower from India and unskilled migration from other locations, President Trump needs to be engaged in an effort to ensure that barriers to such highly
beneficial movement of professionals get reduced or removed.
Prime Minister Modi could perhaps invite President-elect Trump to visit India to discuss terror and other subjects of mutual concern. Certainly, given that a change in administrations is imminent, another visit by Modi to the US may be opportune, in order to meet the incoming Head of State as well as leaders of the
US Congress. Regular visits and
consultations should be institutionalised between Washington and Delhi so that ‘visits by each country’s leaders to the other’ becomes a common feature rather than a rarity. The vision of Donald Trump has much more in common with that of India than would have been the case with Hillary Clinton. Time has come for Modi to establish with Trump a relationship even stronger than that between him and Barack Obama.
(The writer is senior columnist and Editorial Director of The Sunday Guardian)