US President Trump’s visit to India has ultimately netted a very limited reward for the Indian side barring a small PR gain for the AAP
Like surgical strikes, Kashmir, CAA, etc., the extravaganza of Trump's visit appears to be another 'Trump Card' for the current regime to regain lost ground. That said, whether it would help our poverty-ridden country or not, the visit of the US First Lady to a government school in Delhi would certainly help the AAP party gain some global optics.
Introduced in 2018, the everyday 45-minute 'Happiness class' that covers storytelling, meditation, mindfulness, etc., helps students from 1-8th standard to gain confidence, to become stress-free, communicative and focussed on studies and also to develop etiquettes in conducting themselves within their families and society. Melania Trump was so impressed that she wants to introduce it in the US and wants it to be followed in all countries. Although not invited to the programme, Kejriwal and Sisodia can use this victory to help spread the wings of AAP across the country.
All credit to the PM, the arrangements made for the visit of the US President were immaculate and unprecedented. His chemistry with Trump is too evident, like with the Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, as a chord of friendship strikes only between like-minded people with common goals; they gel well enough together to be referred to as a 'Triad of Trumps'. It is not a strange coincidence that the Brazilian President graced the occasion of our Republic Day, followed by the official visit of Donald Trump, for which lakhs of people were made to line up from the airport to the largest cricket stadium in the world at Ahmedabad; a 'Great Wall' constructed to prevent the view of the slums and squalor; Gujarat model of development showcased in all its glory.
But America knows that as per the CAG report, Gujarat has the poorest Human Development Index. In 2018, owing to poverty, suicides increased by 163 per cent to 294; and unemployment by 21 per cent.
Even Americans must be wondering, why our government should be quite so extravagant for 'Namaste, Trump' at the cost of poverty-ridden Indians and put people through so much inconvenience. They are conscious that Americans would never squander their money on visitors, nor would they line up in huge numbers to receive them. But, India is aware that the PM has strong chemistry with Trump and Jair for valid reasons.
Populism is the preferred brand for this 'Triad of Trumps'. Donald Trump cocks-a-nook at the fundamentals of democracy with every tweet he sends out. 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." Similarly, with his brute majority, the Brazilian President bulldozes his agenda in his country. Our PM, who came to power with the hype of fighting against corruption and policy paralysis, is no different.
There is demonstrated indifference to the spirit of democracy in the current regime. When the CAA, etc., are opposed, people are booked for sedition; so are intellectuals who speak out. There are no debates and discussions; autonomy of institutions and freedom of the press have been trampled. EVM scandal is suppressed by the Election Commission without any convincing reasons. Yet, courts are influenced to go soft on those who commit such crimes. India has slid in three years by 50 notches in 'Democratic Traditions' to be at 91 among 180 countries.
Then, notwithstanding what scientists say, for the three Trumps, climate change is a natural phenomenon without any need for human intervention. Donald Trump has thus decided to pull the US out of the 'Paris Agreement' and endorsed the action of the 'Trump of the Tropics', who rebuked the alarm raised by his own environmental agency and diluted laws against illegal logging and mining. Now, in Brazil, there is indiscriminate stripping of the rainforest for agriculture, animal ranching, and mining, apparently serving business interests. India, too, is quite behind in achieving sustainable development goals, while forest land diversion for non-forest purposes has only increased. Our poor performance in Global Environment Protection Index — 177 out of 180 countries — only portrays the apathy of the current government.
In spite of the Modi-Trump chemistry, it is naive to expect the latter to be carried away with the warmth and hospitality of India. He will only trust his own people. While the US House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate have flagged "the current humanitarian crisis" in Kashmir, US Commission on International Religious Freedom has briefed him about the recurring instances of religious intolerance, the inaction of the current Indian regime and the patronage extended to extreme Hindu outfits.
In fact, fresh from his acquittal in the impeachment proceedings, Trump is full of confidence and has claimed his achievement of three years as, "jobs are booming, incomes are soaring, poverty is plummeting, crime is falling, confidence is surging, the US is thriving and respected again." He is aware that his Indian counterpart has little to showcase in his rule of six years.
Trump is aware that, in India, GDP growth has slid to 1.5 per cent and unemployment is at its height. There is widespread poverty and only crony capitalists are flourishing, due to which Oxfam International's 'Commitment to Reducing Inequality Index' ranks India at a pathetic 147 among 157 countries. Knowing all this, he only tried to extract benefits for his country while keeping an eye for the votes of people of Indian origin in this election year.
He sounded like the perfect military salesman when he said, "Our military has been completely rebuilt. We are producing the best and most feared weapons on the planet — aeroplanes, ships, guns, missiles, helicopters, etc. We make the best and are now dealing with India." And, he has succeeded in selling $3.5 billion worth of helicopters and extending the missile shield to bring India into the global American axis. India will now source $9 billion worth of crude oil from the US. However, he is reticent about revoking the decision about keeping India out of the list of Generalised System Preferences that is causing a loss of $260 million every year that was otherwise accruing due to duty-free exports and also to reconsider the heavy duty imposed on steel and aluminium products. He is also silent about the adverse restrictive visa practices for immigrants as well as IT workers. To add insult, Trump said his country had 'not been treated very well by India.' More importantly, he has deferred the decision for a trade deal to post-November elections. Indeed, it is a blessing in disguise.
If the deal went through, the Indian market would be flooded with cheap dairy and farm products from the US. Since corporations and agri-businesses that enjoy 10 per cent subsidy control these activities, millions of small and medium farmers of India, who face a 14 per cent negative subsidy, would not be able to compete and would be left in the lurch.
Trump has also been coy in bringing up the current communal unrest that is gripping the Indian nation. Subtly hinting at the communal politics of the BJP, he alluded in positive terms to the diversity of faiths in India and its "many treasures", such as "the sacred banks of the Ganges, the Golden Temple and Jama Masjid".
In all, the ruling establishment of India cannot revel in the glory of Trump's visit, since barring the optics and theatrics and extravaganza, it was 'much ado about nothing' kind of situation. Trump has only gone away bearing gifts from us without offering any in return. The only solace in all this is the positives from the visit of Melania Trump to the Delhi government school that would help the image of AAP government globally. But, the country is in no mood to revel, since Delhi is simmering after a communal blaze.
The writer is a retired IPS officer and a former Member of Public Grievances Commission, Delhi. Views expressed are strictly personal