By Prof. Rasananda Panda
The official Modi-Trump meet is scheduled to happen on Monday, 26th June and will end on the same day with a working dinner. Like the earlier visits of Modi to US this time there is no evidence, at least in media, about the culinary arrangements of what will be there in the menu in White House, what kind of food arrangements be there for break first, lunch, dinner or whether there will be Gujarati dishes; no information about whether there will be any Maddison square type tamasha by Modi or at least whether he is meeting the Indian diaspora there who paid earlier to listen to PM Modi’s speech. Whether any meeting with the CEOs of US are scheduled or not is not known to anybody as against the itinerary of previous visits being there everywhere days prior to the visits of Modi to US.
Is it because there is no Barrack in the White House there but President Donald Trump-who like Modi believes in nation’s pride first and then other things. It is another matter that Donald Trump is a businessman first and Modi being a Gujarati also understands business well as he claims to be in several occasions while being CM of Gujarat and now as PM. It is well known from Trump’s posturing, that, for him it is America First. Again, historically the foreign policy of US is always intrinsic to its own need and in the process Uncle Sam ensures that the foreign policy of other nations is tweaked as per the requirements of the US. Now, in its quest towards making America First as espoused during his election campaign, Trump had started following up his election rhetoric of let’s make America great again and the way forward as a policy or slogan he started propagating the view “Be American, buy American” – no less than many such rhetoric by PM Modi during his election campaigning in 2014; and now as he prepares to regain power again in 2019. Therefore, odds are high for him to extract maximum from his meeting with Trump given the expectations that Mr. Modi has generated through his public display of affection to Trump’s predecessor in White House Mr. Barrack Obama by calling him by first name and showing all kind of bromance in the Hyderabad House during former’s visit to New Delhi in 2015. But alas – no one is permanent in democracy. Modi too will learn sooner than later.
It will not be a surprise if this visit of Modi to US will be a damp squib given the differences in their outlook to geopolitics and respective domestic compulsions. The pulling out of US from Paris Climate Accord is one such flashpoint in US’s foreign policy which is not in accordance with global agreement on climate change of which India is a champion. At present Modi government in India is criticised for having a job less growth that has slowed down because of demonetisation and its impact during last six months and it is now official. The implementation of GST in the short-run is going to give some teething problems to the country in the form of removing middleman from sales and distribution and thus choking employment further. Add to it the H1-B Visa restrictions by US that has come to force with Trump government at the helm of affairs and thus restricting employment by Indian IT majors operating abroad and these Indians returning to India and thus adding to the existing army of unemployed youths and thus strangulating the economy further. As such there is no signal of soothing on this issue by Trump administration though discussion on this is there as one of the top agenda of Modi and it should be.
Legacy hotspots in the form of US- China, US-Pakistan relationship either overtly or covertly is always a shore point for India. The recent meeting on One Belt One Road (OBOR) as propagated by China attended by US in the last moment after initial hesitations and Pakistan but not by India indirectly reflects US’s nod for such an initiative giving scanty regards to India’s concern towards emergence of Chinese hegemony in Asia and Pakistan’s role in it. After all US’s outlook towards South Asia in general and Indian sub-continent in particular is always suspicious and is evident from the history.
Interest of both US and India in Middle-East is crucial but for different purpose. For us it is more strategic from resources and economic point of view whereas for US it is more of military and minority appeasement in new Trumpian administration. The military entanglement in Qatar and Trump administration’s unnecessary intervention by alleging Qatar for funding terrorism at a very high level has exposed the ignorance of Trump about Qatar having the biggest US military base in the region. It has also been a bizarre situation where US has signed a 12-billion-dollar deal to provide F15 fighters to Qatar air force and later back tracking on it and to cover up this diplomatic misadventure asked Saudis and its allies to come with a credible justification towards their embargo on Qatar. Things are not honky dory with Iran even after the country re-electing the reformist Hassan Rouhani as President and US asking for a regime change. Needless to mention, all ingredients of a large scale turmoil leading to war may not be ruled out in the region. As against this, Modi has invested lot of his time and energy in Middle East travelling to almost all the countries in the region with a careful agenda towards promoting economic co-operation in the region and his visit to Tel-Aviv soon will reflect Modi’s capability in traversing the path in the region with ease. But in geo-politics, it takes no time to change sides whenever there is a need and an enemy’s friend is always an enemy.
However, one thing that is common and been noticed by everybody in both the countries is the ease in which both the leaders are active in social media and especially in twitter where both of them express their views on governance and policy and Trump giving a personal touch to the US foreign policy and Modi also trying the same making the Ministry of External Affairs and the Minister redundant.
Continuity of Indo-US relations as initiated during Modi-Obama years overcoming the hesitations of history and by signing joint vision document on Asia Pacific and Indian Ocean are not feasible now; rather Modi must try to establish a personal relation with Trump like China’s president Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have tried and succeed.
After all, if it was Barrack earlier it could be Donald now. No harm in trying.
[Rasananda Panda, Professor of Political Economy, MICA, Shela, Ahmedabad – 380 058. Email: [email protected] Author expresses his gratitude to his FPM Research Scholar at MICA, Mr. Mitrajit Biswas.]