Reconstructing strategic relations
An economically sound and politically stable India is a perfect ally for the US to counter the growing hegemony of China in South Asia. India can claim to become economically sound and politically secure only by strengthening its bilateral relations with the US. It is really strange that friends of America and precisely the American Caucus, which has been defining the Indian policy and approach of India towards the USA, have been harping on these issues.
With Prime Minister Narendra Modi scheduled to visit America on June 25 to meet President Donald Trump, it is paradoxically being argued that built on the foundation led by President Barrack Obama, and these events have further strengthened the relationship between Trump and Modi. However, the ground reality is that ever since Trump got elected as the president, he has not sent any signal to reassure India of further increasing the existing strategic bilateral relations between the two countries. On the contrary, his gestures and stray remarks, like the one on H-1B visa, have only scared Indians. Even the IT corporate giants are frightened.
It would be equally imprudent to compare Trump's stance against Islamic extremism (ISIS) with PM Modi's anti-terrorist operations. Modi's visit comes at a time of intense turmoil in Washington over a bunch of nonsensical issues. Trump's worldview seems diametrically opposite to established doctrines that transcended political opposition. Modi lands in Washington overshadowed by problems that threaten the strong Indo-US ties.
India would have to carefully chart out a deal-making strategy so that it does not have to face the blunt and dogmatic concerns and notions of Trump. One thing is clear: this visit would test Modi's political acumen, how he stalls and repulses the whims of Trump. Expectedly, the first meeting between Trump and Modi would "set forth a vision" to expand the US-India partnership ambitiously. But the chances appear to be bleak. For Trump, India is a burgeoning market having no political importance and say in the global arena. Apparently, in this background, not much could be expected from Trump to set forth a "common vision" on expanding the U.S.-India partnership.
Though the White House cites fighting terrorism, promoting economic growth and reforms and expanding security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region as shared priorities, the fact remains these issues were explored when Obama was in office. It is significant to note that Trump did not invite Modi on his own; instead, according to the press secretary of the White House, "he invited Modi to Washington after the Indian leader rang him in January to congratulate the new President on his inauguration". What does this imply? Trump has not taken the element of the strategic relationship between the two countries seriously.
Modi's US visit comes in the backdrop of Trump's announcement to withdraw the US from the historic Paris Climate Agreement. Trump had blamed India and China for the US withdrawal. "India makes its participation contingent on receiving billions and billions of dollars from developed countries," he had said.
As Modi heads to the White House, he is confronted with one major challenge; to preserving the gains in the bilateral relationship with the United States over the last two decades. During Obama's tenure, Modi put his best skill and energies to advance the partnership with the US. Modi virtually terminated India's neutral stance towards America. Now with Trump in command, Modi will have to put in place a new mechanism. One thing is clear that old relations and sensibilities are irrelevant in Trump's administration. The chances of Modi succeeding in building a personal rapport with Trump are quite uncertain.
Modi ought to keep in mind that world political order is gradually moving towards multi-polar roles and relations. American hegemony is getting a rebuff, rapid rise of China and the assertion of Russia in global arena are the major developments. American is no more invincible. It is the multi-polar moment that triggered America's internal political churn which pushed a person like Trump into the White House.
Ever since World War II, India had to deal with US internationalism. Under Trump, Delhi must learn to cope with American nationalists, who are consistently asking "what's in it for me?" Significantly India has always craved for a multi-polar world. In the existing situation, Modi's primary task would be to get Indian diplomacy adapt to the changes in America. In the past US defined the nature of the bilateral relationship, now Modi must make a move.
Modi must realise that Trump is not Obama; obviously, the character of his relation would not remain the same. Obama is a lawyer and Trump a businessman. Naturally, the priorities and approaches to policies would differ. Trump is every bit 'establishment' and corporate controlled. In a 1990 interview with Vanity Fair, Ivana Trump mentioned that, at least at one point, her husband used to keep a book filled with Hitler's speeches by his bedside. Trump is clearly more divisive because he seized on this opportunity to rile up the masses over the spectre of fake news. He also called out Muslims and Mexicans as less than American and said immigrants are criminals. He said it was OK to treat women like meat.
Being a nuclear power and rising economic power of South Asia, the importance and relevance of India cannot be ignored by the world powers. The US has increasingly been looking at India and its growing influence as an alternative to Chinese supremacy in the region. Currently, India tops the US priority list for its regional designs.
Basically, this is the reason that Trump extended support to India in its fight against terrorism. Otherwise too, the global pledge to combat terrorism is meaningless. It has miserably failed. Terrorists continue to strike willfully. The fact of the matter is the US administration as such has never been quite keen to eradicate terrorism.
Trump would prefer to rope in India in its war of wits against China. Modi should realise that the situation has changed. The world is no more what it was during Obama. Moreover, with Trump under investigation in the expanding inquiry into Russian influence in the election, there is no certainty what will happen tomorrow.
India must have a healthy relation with USA and Trump, but it should strive to utilise Shanghai Cooperation Organisation to broaden its global support base. It is worth mentioning that the American Caucus has been deriding the SCO. The time has come for India to assert its independent authority and status. It would be naïve to expect too much from the Modi-Trump meet, but one thing is certain it would define the political course that India would
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)