It now is time for President Trump to take a close call on India. The US president will touch down on the Indian soil a week hence, on a two-day visit that will see him and wife Melania whizzing past people and power centres in Delhi as also Ahmedabad, the commercial centre-piece of Gujarat. The visit is being touted as a reaffirmation of the growing ties between India and the US – past the Cold War era and NAM that had seen this nation more on the ant-American side. However, all of the recent acts of President Donald J Trump have been economically crippling for India.
With the disintegration of the USSR, global power equations have changed. Russia shed its animosity to the Americans, somewhat on the lines of what China did after top diplomat Henry Kissinger helped usher in an era of cooperation between the US and the red dragon, and using trade as the leitmotif. India, in tandem, changed its attitude towards the US, in slow, steady and positive manners over the past three decades. The past, though, hangs heavy on the present. The US, despite its open show of warmth, is mindful of the past as well – a time when, on the other hand, a ‘dependable’ Pakistan was its ally and a buffer against the Indian moves.
Today the US does not need India but India needs the US. This has less to do with the show of friendship between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US Presidents past and present, or less even with the Madison Moment. Such are the shows on the sidelines, while the principals matter; which is that India is among the major, emerging economies with the largest middle-class segment and constantly on a hunt for hi-tech military wares, fighter jets and commercial aircraft. All these have lure for the US in terms of trade and defence deals. As president, even Barack Obama came hunting for business contracts from India, to boost the flagging American economy and raise jobs there. In fact, the past three US presidents made it a point to visit India, though Trump is reaching out to India in the last phase of his four-year term. Modi on the other hand has been very desperately seeking Trump’s help for reasons known to India observers. This timing of the Trump visit to India may seem god sent to Modi especially after his chain of electoral debacles culminating in the latest one at Delhi.
To claim that Trump needs India more at this point of time, as the electorally strong Indian community in the US could be a big crutch for him, may not be absolutely correct. The Indian diaspora is no more united and at the beck and call of PM Modi as it usd to be. The best Modi could deliver is, probably, a large chunk of the limited Gujarati voters in the US. That may be a major reason for the visit to Ahmedabad (or Amdavad).
The timing of the Trump visit is thus loaded with political aims. The business instincts in Trump might see an opportunity here to raise his and the Republicans’ electoral potential. PM Modi is promising a line-up of no less than 7 million waving cheering crowd on both sides of the road as Trump motors down the streets in Gujarat – something unimaginable even for a prime minister of India. It can only be judged after the event is over. But Indians are, being in India, aware of the power of false propaganda that the government is capable of unleashing at this time, Trump seeks to achieve his twin objectives– selling America and selling himself to best advantage. On the charm offensive is wife Melania on his side. It of course has to be seen if the recent humiliation of more then 60 girl students in Bhuj of Gujarat and a wall being built to hide the poverty of Ahmedabad slums from Trump’s eyes will be noticed by the visiting dignitaries. Apart from these events, the, there are reports that the BJP proposes to spn 3.7 crore or flower decorations all along the motorway to be used by Trump. All this adds up to the question about the much publicied Gujarat Model since walls have to be built to hide poverty where as Modi who was Chief Minister of that state for 12 years and has been PM for 6 years still has to do facial coe ups.
Irrespective of whether charm offensives work to mutual advantage or not, the Prime Minister has made it a point to concentrate more on the show – starting with the visit of China’s Xi Jinping shortly after Modi took office in Delhi for the first time. Then too, the stage for reception was set in Gujarat, with Sabarmati Ashram playing host to Xi, and with Modi in tow. Xi returned for a second visit, and this time the stage shifted to Chennai’s precincts in Mahabalipuram. The entire show will have PM Modi too on TV screens. Behind all the fireworks, what matters most is national interest – both for the host nation as also the guest.
India – the beauty that seeks to charm one and all, as the Chinese put it, tongue-in-cheek, a while ago – will however have to do a trapeze act. The US wants India to play its games against China; and China is mindful of the harm such a scenario could inflict on it, be it in relation to South China Sea, or the wider Indo-Pacific Region (a recent US-inspired change from Asia Pacific to India ‘specific’ Pacific), or vis-à-vis the ongoing trade war. India cannot afford to antagonize China. At the same time, Trump will not miss an opportunity to hard-sell America out here. The visit will, most likely, not be action-packed but more of show. Apart from Air Force One, a Presidential visit abroad carries with it seven or more aircraft loaded with thousands of US officials, business honchos and White House staff. Unfortunately, not a single American business leader is accompanying Trump in this tip. So, the outcome may be the same as that of Xi last time. A big Zero.