Modi’s team seems to have made modest inroads into Trump’s White House
The moot question being asked in political circles is this: where do Indo-US relations go after the hectic two-day whirlwind tour of prime minister Narendra Modi and his first engagement with president Donald Trump?
The jury is out on whether the two strong and powerful leaders got into a working relationship — the bear hug, smiles, bonhomie and White House working dinner notwithstanding.
The Trump-Modi equation is hampered, in part, by the Barack Obama-Modi camaraderie and, therefore, provides no easy answers. But if the glee on foreign secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar’s face is anything to go by, the Indian side seems to have managed to hold on well and make modest inroads into Trump’s White House.
Trump and Modi’s statements and joint communiqué reflect the “positive” mood in both camps, even as the two leaders were seen as “guffawing” old buddies. Strategic analysts in both countries have to delve deeper to make sense of this first meeting between two leaders with the biggest following on the social media networks.
India seems to have burnt midnight oil and exercised extreme caution to make the maiden meeting between Modi and Trump a starting point of dialogue with the Republican White House, Senate and the Congress.
Coming to the specifics, it’s a clear indication that both leaders seem to have reconciled to keeping the differences on the sidelines and work around areas of convergence. The biggest indicator of this resolve was to go not just after terror networks like ISIS and Al Qaida, but also to bracket Jaish e Mohammad, Lashkar e Tayyiba, Dawood Ibrahim’s D-company and their affiliates inimical to India’s interests.
Without mincing words, a direct call to Pakistan for desisting from hosting terror outfits also has a message for its key ally, China.
The US, India, South Korea and Japan joint exercises in the Indian Ocean and the criticism of the One Belt One Road initiative of Chinese President Xi Jinping, should also be considered significant.
Indo-US jugalbandi in the Afghanistan theatre was also designed to send a firm signal to China. Bringing North Korea into picture for the first time ever also elevates the India-US push in South and South East Asian affairs, which may not be necessarily welcomed by China.
The six-pager joint statement also reflects the immense potential for India to consolidate its position as America’s big defence partner, given that the Trump administration has cleared the supply of unmanned drones to India, the first non-NATO country.
But the bigger trajectory in question was the way both investment and trade relations would pan out given Trump’s emphasis on “America First” as against Modi’s “Make in India.”
Bravado notwithstanding, the promised bilateral trade review also means that India will have to forego some of the huge trade balance it holds with the US. The promise to increase market access in agriculture, IT, manufactured goods and services also means more business would shift to US, though South Block mandarins asserted, it was advantage India.
They cite the latest US decision to allow co-production of F-16, latest military aircraft by Lockheed Martin along with Tatas in India, as examples of this new bonhomie.
Unresolved differences on the energy matrix, H1B visas that are vital to Indian technology professionals’ movement to US and racial crimes against Indians in US, continue to reflect in the communiqué.
While renewable and new energy sourcing finds a place in the dialogue, Trump’s favoured child, coal holds the sway in fossil fuel category.
The six nuclear reactors supply by Westinghouse Electric Company remained unresolved owing to India’s insistence on unhindered supply of fuel, technology and entry into nuclear suppliers group, among other issues.