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Modi, Trump not on the same page

Modi, Trump not on the same page
A few months earlier, Narendra Modi and Donald Trump would have had more in common than at present. They would have been of the same mind, for instance, in their castigation of Islamic terrorism. More than any other US president, Trump has been severely critical of the threat posed by the jihadis, which made one of his spokespersons to name Pakistan as a country which could potentially find itself on the list of those whose citizens were being forbidden to enter America.

In recent times, however, much has changed in this respect. For one, the travel bans on Muslims have been declared illegal by the US courts, which means that Pakistan has been spared for the time being. For another, Trump has decided to befriend Saudi Arabia more closely than his predecessor to take on Iran, his pet hate because of the latter's nuclear capabilities, which scares Israel.

Although India, too, is friendly towards Saudi Arabia, New Delhi cannot be unaware of Riyadh's proximity to Islamabad via the Sunni-Wahabi nexus. It is the bigotry promoted by Saudi Arabia in the Islamic world which is of concern to India as it plays into the hands of the ISIS and encourages hundreds of young Muslims to become suicide bombers.

Modi may not have much difficulty in persuading Trump about the threat posed by the terrorists both to India and the US in general terms. But there are likely to be differences over America's present approach to the problem since Washington is unlikely to ditch Saudi Arabia's friend, Pakistan, at the moment, especially when there is a possibility of more US involvement in Afghanistan.

Terrorism apart, the other issue which is of considerable concern to India is the job opportunities for Indian computer personnel in the Silicon Valley. With Trump's protectionist, America First, policy coming in the way of more Indians being employed by the American IT companies, Modi will have a hard time in persuading Trump to relax entry restrictions.

This is not the only sticking point. In Barack Obama's time, India's rise as a counterweight to China as America's partner was virtually taken for granted. Although nothing much has changed on the surface, Trump seems more intent on pursuing his line on China in which India may not play much of a part, mainly because Washington is now keener on enlisting Beijing's help in neutralising North Korea.

True, America is not too pleased with the artificial islands built by China in the South China Sea and has acted in a way which Beijing considers provocative. But Washington is unlikely to push China any further until the North Korean imbroglio is solved. Besides, the US is not unaware of the business opportunities provided to American companies by the Belt-Road Initiative, which is India's bête noire as the economic corridor passes through what India regards as its territory.

As is known, genuine camaraderie is rarely possible in international diplomacy since each country pursues its interest and is not too bothered about the preferences of any other unless their interests happen to coincide. But it isn't only the nuanced differences between India and the US on Pakistan and China which are of importance. What New Delhi will also have to take into consideration is that Trump's domestic position is under a cloud with accusations being voiced against him of obstructing justice. It is too early say whether he will suffer Richard Nixon's fate. But India will have to factor in the possibility of major tremors in American politics which precludes the formulation of long-term policies.

Modi, too, is not quite as secure as his party men may believe. As the farmers' agitation, the unrest among Dalits and the coming together of the opposition parties on the presidential poll show, the scene for the ruling party is not as hunky-dory as it was in 2014.

There may be an element of tentativeness in their first meeting which was not expected when Trump first took over, and the BJP hardliners were delighted with his anti-Muslim worldview.

Even then, what is undeniable is that notwithstanding the vagaries of shifting domestic political currents, the friendly relationship between India and the US has acquired a permanence which was not there in the years when Pakistan was America's favourite non-NATO ally. However, ever since Pakistan became an "international migraine", as former US secretary of state, Madeleine Albright said, the proximity between the world's largest and oldest democracies has grown.

There is little doubt that Modi's visit will put a further seal on the friendship even if he is no longer the rock star as he was during his earlier trips, so far as the Indians living in the US are concerned.
Amulya Ganguli

Amulya Ganguli

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