True friends, loyal partners, and major allies – these are some of the words U.S. President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi used to describe the relationship between the world’s largest and world’s oldest democracies.
Contrast this with the President’s tone just a few weeks ago, when he had blasted India for extracting benefits worth “billions and billions of dollars” from the Paris Climate Accord, which he described as “discriminatory”. Even though Trump did not target India specifically, he did callously group China and India as countries which “artificially maintain trade deficits with the United States”.
Thus, before the Indian Prime Minister’s highly anticipated visit to the U.S. – both Indian and American commentators were speculating the meeting between the eccentric President and the polished Prime Minister would be tense at its best and confrontational at its worst. But the bear-hugs between the leaders proved all those commentators wrong.
Apparently this visit was more of a “get-to-know-each-other” forum than a serious policy-analysis conference – and this mindset was evident. Both leaders stayed clear of tougher and confrontational issues like the trade deficit and immigration policy, and readily plucked low hanging fruits like reaffirming the fight against terrorism. Thus, from that standard the meeting was a huge success, with Trump and Modi publicly displaying signs of warmth and respect for each other. But let us now come to the main question: Does this meeting signify that the Indo-U.S. relations are headed for a golden era? Not necessarily.
The fact is, until now the Trump Administration has virtually ignored India, with most of the administration’s focus being arrested by the antics of North Korea and its leader Kim Jong-un, and other domestic issues like the FBI probe into the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Russia in the 2016 Presidential elections. The possible conflict between Trump’s “America First” policy and Modi’s “Make in India” campaign doesn’t make things any better. Add to that the fact that Trump is cosying up to China (for his contain North Korea strategy), and it is clear that there are huge impediment to the further strengthening of the U.S. – India relationship.
Perhaps a bigger problem is the fact that Donald Trump was elected on an anti-Islamic, anti-immigrant platform. However, till now, Trump hasn’t been able to pass a single immigration, health-care or tax-reform. His “travel-ban” has been repeatedly been stayed by U.S. Courts. Thus,with his ever falling popularity amongst the public in general and his voter-base in particular, the beleaguered President might soon feel a need to rally his support-base by possibly cracking down on immigration. The general consensus is that virtually any reform to the current immigration system will not be conducive to the Indian IT and outsourcing industry – which is a key part of the Indian economy. Hence, even though President Trump might not hold anything personally against India, he may possibly be forced to sacrifice the Indo-U.S. relations to salvage his domestic standing. It remains to be seen how aggressively the Indian Government responds to such a scenario.
As a consequence it would be pre-mature to say that a single Trump-Modi meeting’s success is an indicator of hugely improved ties between the two powers. It would also be too pessimistic on our part to declare that the issues plaguing the two countries are “unsolvable”. The best we can do is hope that the decision makers of the two nations proceed with farsightedness, caution, and mutual understanding. But one thing can be said for sure – for the Indo-U.S. relations, sky is the limit.
The India – United States relationship will be the defining partnership of the 21st Century : Barack H. Obama – 44th President of the United States.
Note:- All the opinions stated in the above article are the author’s own.