By K Raveendran
Magnificent pageantry, super optics and perfect platitudes. The much-trumpeted POTUS visit to India produced all this, but very little beyond. Of course, it generated a lot of hot air, creating a bit of ‘western disturbance’ which, however, did not induce any rain.
President Trump’s maiden trip to India, accompanied by First Lady Melania and entourage was widely expected to be an effort to win over American Indians in his bid for the second term, but Trump made it look like the run-up to a presidential run for Narendra Modi. There was only one problem, it came four years too soon. That was the kind of praise heaped on the Indian Prime Minister, who he said was the symbol of the hope and self-confidence of Indians and whatever they were capable of achieving.
But the great schemer that Trump is, he may not have missed his target, hitting it in a roundabout way though. Platitudes for Modi, despite a disconnect with whatever is happening around the country, carry a message for the Indians in the United States that will stand the second term aspirant in good stead. He did not forget to acknowledge the spectacular contributions made by Indians to the technological progress of the world in general and the United States in particular.
But even as he was extolling the greatness of Indian democracy, parts of Delhi were burning due to communal frenzy. And when it came to the crucial issue of religious freedom and the citizenship issues, he took refuge behind diplomatic niceties, saying it is for India to deal with the issues and there was nothing that the United States was required to do.
Here as well as in relation to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Trump followed a please-all approach. He criticised Islamabad for harbouring terrorists, at the same time kept in mind the importance of Pakistan for the success of its proposed deal with the Taliban. Pakistan was a friend, but India was a trusted friend and key to its strategy to take on the deviant China and Russia.
In turn, Trump got what he wanted, although he would have liked more. He announced a $3 billion defence deal with India as part of the deepening defence partnership between the two countries. The deal includes the purchase of 24 MH-60 multi-role Seahawk helicopters for Indian Navy, which will replace the ageing British-made Sea Kings. The $2.6 billion government-to-government deal is a boost to the Lockheed Martin group.
The US has also secured a commitment from India to buy more natural gas from American companies. The US is already a major energy supplier to India, setting a new trend, which has been achieved at the cost of traditional sources like Iran and other West Asian players.
On its part, India has gained pretty little from the equation. The much-hyped trade deal, which both sides have been aggressively promoting, has failed to move an inch, thanks to the tough posturing on both sides. Trump has sought to attribute the lack of progress to the fact that his friend Modi is a ‘tough negotiator’. But that is no consolation for India’s disappointment in securing any trade concession from the US.
For those who are no great fans of US and its policies, there is a lot that is undesirable in the growing defence partnership between the Modi and Trump administrations. Over the years, India’s policy of non-alignment, broadly understood as a more pro-Russian than pro-American approach, has undergone a metamorphosis. The Modi government’s non-alignment means alignment with all rather than alignment with none.
The sincerity of Trump’s love for India is highly suspect as it is only meant to promote the larger American interests in the Asia Pacific region. Although the Trump administration takes great pains to explain that India is treated more like an ally, along with Japan, its real game is to checkmate Beijing in its own geopolitical ambitions.
There is no denying the fact that the Modi government has been moving closer to the US ever since it came to power in 2014. The two governments have since signed several ‘foundational’ agreements for defence cooperation, including logistics exchanges, communications and information sharing. There have been a few problems with sharing of sensitive geospatial information.
Trump has been rather realistic not to expect India to restrict defence cooperation with Russia, which has been a trusted supplier of arms for a very long time. While the US has tried to put pressure on India through global sanctions and other restrictive practices, India has stayed its course in terms of its defence partnership with Russia.
And yet, a critical view of recent developments would show India more pliable towards American interests. There have already been suggestions that we have submitted ourselves to the geopolitical ambitions of an expansionist American administration. (IPA Service)