Indian sides’ attempts to portray a close relationship — while eschewing the principles of non alignment with — the Trump administration may not pay off in the long run
Although the PM has been hopping around the globe to several countries, even for the casual observer it appears, jettisoning decades of practice of non-alignment, his foreign policy has been pivoted around Donald Trump. However, only time will reveal whether he is right in putting all stakes on Trump at the cost of relations with others.
Islamophobia has strained our relations with the members of the Organisation of Islamic Countries, and even our traditional friend, Iran. They have unequivocally condemned the targeting of the lives and properties of Indian Muslims, as well as maligning them maliciously in the Tablighi Jamaat incident, and have openly cautioned of isolation that might affect our trade of about $260 billion with them; the fate of 76 lakh Indians working in the Gulf and are remitting $37 billion annually, is also at stake.
Already, India has been relieved of the railway project in Iran that was touted as a great foreign policy victory to counter the development of a port in Pakistan by China. And, India stopped buying Iran oil due to US sanctions. Now, with China entering into a 25-year comprehensive deal of $400 billion to develop several infrastructure projects in Iran, our dreams of setting a foothold in this area have failed. After our traditional-enemy Pakistan, Iran would now become another home for China.
Even our relations with our neighbours have been strained. While Nepal is inclining towards China, Bhutan is wagging its tail against India. As Bangladesh is happy with the attractive financial deal on offer from China, and Sri Lanka with their investments, Myanmar showed its distance from us by killing three of our soldiers just a day after the arrival of 5 Rafale jets. Then, with the rising of Taliban, and their likelihood of forming a government, pro-India sentiments are waning in Afghanistan. China is thus taking all our earlier friends into its fold, while unabatedly indulging in incursions into our territory. And, surveys are writing off even our cultivated friend, Trump. However, it is significant that he has begun his campaign by highlighting the bonhomie with the PM.
The video says, "America will always be a faithful and loyal friend to the Indian people," in order to woo the over two million Indian-Americans, especially in the crucial battleground States of Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. The genuinity of the assertion is, however, questionable, even as he appears to be friendly with the Indian PM for several reasons.
A chord of friendship strikes only between like-minded people with common traits and goals. Both these leaders have arrogance and megalomania, are adept in telling lies, have least concern for human suffering and environment, and top priority for businesses and corporates.
Populism being their preferred brand, Trump cocks-a-nook at the fundamentals of democracy with every tweet he sends out. He presumes unlimited powers of the President, and asks the SC not to interfere in matters connected to him. Boastfully, he denied the documents needed in his impeachment trial. It is thus said with reason, 'there can be no acquittal without a trial, and there is no trial without witnesses, documents and evidence." In India too, matters of Sahara diary, Rafale, judge Loya's death, etc. were closed in dubious ways; not on merits. Further, there are no debates and discussions, and India has slid in three years in 'Democratic Traditions' to be at 91 among 180 countries, like how it stands at a low of 177 out of 180 countries in performance in Global Environment Protection Index.
Contrary to scientific cautions of global warming, for these leaders, climate change is a natural phenomenon without any need for human intervention. It is thus that Trump endorses the actions of President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil when he brazenly advocates for deforestation for economic development. The US, which uses a substantial quantity of oil from the Gulf, has pulled out of the Paris Agreement, and deprived the world of its contribution to the Green Climate Fund. In India, green technology and alternative sources of energy are still a distant dream, and we are a long way from even reaching reasonable levels of compliance of Paris Agreement goals, although the PM got the Global Goalkeeper Award for his rhetoric.
Like narcissists, Trump and the PM have self-love, and bask in hyped glory. Trump did not feel embarrassed when extravagant arrangements were made by this poor country, and lakhs of people lined up for the Namaste Trump event, although he was aware that a 'Great Wall' was mounted to conceal the slums and squalor. Further, while succeeding in selling $3.5 billion worth of helicopters and extending the missile shield to bring India into the global American axis, as also supply of $9 billion worth of crude oil, he was reticent about revoking the decision about keeping India out of Generalised System Preferences that has inflicted a loss of $260 million in duty-free exports annually; and also to reconsider the heavy duty imposed on steel and aluminium products; and was also silent about the adverse restrictive visa practices for immigrants as well as IT workers. Yet, Trump says he loves India, and the PM says he is a great friend!!
Trump maintains studied distance when the Indian PM is criticised, like the US House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate flagging the 'current humanitarian crisis' in Kashmir, US Commission on International Religious Freedom openly castigating India about the recurring instances of religious intolerance, the inaction of the current Indian regime and the patronage extended to extreme Hindu outfits; UNHR Committee indicting India about trampling of human rights in CAA protests, etc. by implicating the protesters in sedition, Delhi riots and such cases, and unabated police encounters and mob-lynching; when PEN criticises India for suppressing freedom of press; India slides to 142 out of 180 countries in this regard; when Islamic countries vocally speak against Islamophobia, etc. Yet, the PM revels in Trump's friendship, since Trump called him 'Father of India.' Then, both of them took the Corona pandemic very casually, at least until the blow was heavy.
Callous handling of Corona has bracketed US and India along with Brazil at the top in terms of number of deaths and cases. Although Trump has given a $1,200 stimulus cheque to ten per cent of the 35 crore population who lost their jobs, all those who have not lost their jobs but are not getting salaries do not get this benefit. Similarly, losing the lives of over 1.8 lakh people is unbelievable to the citizens of the United States, where there is no government health service and hospital bills are prohibitive. At this juncture, in a skewed display of friendship with the PM, he even bulldozed India with retaliation for the supply of HCQ.
His ratings went further down with his handling of the George Floyd issue, calling people 'Thugs' and promoting racial superiority of economically marginalised whites.
In all, the image of the US as a world leader has now hit its lowest in 70 years. Economy is in tatters, and unemployment is in the millions. However, he is boastful of the fact that he had pulled out of old international agreements to create a new America, rich and prestigious. In India, from 10.5 per cent GDP in 2013, the PM managed to bring it down to 1.5, before the pandemic struck. Then, with the lockdown, it went down to minus 23.9 at the end of lockdown, and is likely to go further down if the unorganised sector is taken into account appropriately. Act of God??
Now, the moot question is whether the PM's gamble on Trump would work. As of now, surveys indicate that Democratic party is ahead of the Republicans by over 10 per cent points at the national level, and over 5 points in battleground states. In spite of his long political career, suave Joe Biden is considered as not progressive by the youth. However, the Indo-Afro-American, Kamala Harris, who is his running mate and VP nominee, is a mercurial crowd-puller to slowly sway the votes from over two million Indians and 4.5 crore Africans. As their campaign slogan of Democrats, 'to take US out of darkness into light; bad to good days,' is catching up, mauverik Trump, who is on the backfoot, is working on every trick possible to get re-elected.
Since, due to the Coronavirus, the number of voters preferring postal ballot this time is expected to be higher than the twenty per cent of last time, Trump is even trying to disrupt postal services by reducing allocations, shifting the burden to states, etc., hoping that a close race would end up in multiple litigations. However, wary democrats are trying to ensure that their margin of victory is comfortable. Indian government is keenly watching the race for valid reasons.
Traditionally India-friendly Democrats were antagonised when the PM openly announced at Houston, 'This time Trump again,' since they consider it as an interference in US politics. Furthermore, a meeting of the US Congress with the Indian External Affairs Minister was cancelled by India when they did not accede to our demand to exclude senators like Pramila Jaipal, who are vocal against Article 370, NRC, CAA, etc., resulting in furious criticism from Kamala Harris and others. Although VP is normally not a news maker, Kamala would be a powerful force in Biden government if elected. She would relentlessly take up issues of CAA, Art 370, etc.
The PM and the ruling party would thus be in a piquant situation, perhaps regretting that the shunning of the principles of non-alignment made all the globe-hopping of the PM a hopeless, fruitless exercise.
The writer is a retired IPS officer and a former Member of Public Grievances Commission, Delhi. Views expressed are personal