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Trump’s India policy is unclear

 Kalyani Shankar |  2016-11-11 22:06:31.0  |  New Delhi

Trump’s India policy is unclear

The US election results have surprised many who were supporting Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. It is more so in India where many Indians felt Hillary would be good for India. She is known to many Indians because she was the First Lady for eight years, US Senator for another eight years, and Secretary of State for four, and all the time she had been perceived as a friend of India.

However, the Republican candidate Donald Trump won the race to the White House on November 8. How did he win? He had his poll strategy planned well. He was an outsider to Washington, but it was his Washington-bashing which made him popular with the anti-establishment voters.

Secondly, he was able to connect with the white electorate, even those in the Mid West speaking the language they want to hear about jobs, immigration, gun control, etc. Thirdly, even though the majority of the electorate were disenchanted with both candidates, Trump proved to be more acceptable than Hillary in the end, Fourthly, he was able to get the support of the White population, and others who were convinced that the immigrants were taking their jobs. Brexit also helped him to a certain extent. 

Fifthly, his victory proves the tradition of not installing the same party for the third time in the White House. Now that he will be the tenant of the White House, what does it mean for India? Had Hillary been the President it would have been the continuation of the Obama policies.

Like in the West, many in India have strongly criticised Donald Trump's outrageous remarks on women, Muslims, immigration, and what not. For long no one took him seriously. He is an unknown entity whose foreign policy aspects are yet to be spelt out, particularly regarding India. Even the Indian Foreign Ministers and government officials have had no interaction with the business tycoon. Trump, of course, came to India to inaugurate the Trump Tower in Mumbai, but beyond that, not much is known. Of course many feel that Trump is mainly playing to his domestic constituency and he will be a changed man once he occupies the White House.

Most of what Trump had said so far about India and its neighbours suggest that he would lift the Indo-US relationship out of its rut. He could well be moving towards better bilateral relations given the fact that many Indo-Americans have donated to his campaign even though during the campaign he had mimicked Indian call centre workers and roared against outsourcing.  There are some who believe that Trump might promote India against China to change the balance of power in Asia as part of his new foreign policy. He called Pakistan the most dangerous country and might favour cutting down the US military aid to Islamabad. He has sought the help of India and other nations to address the problem of a “semi-unstable” nuclear Pakistan.

India has particular concerns which Trump may have to address. The first is about the H1B visas for the Indians who go to the US to work in the IT sector. If he continues to pursue a tough line, it will affect the Indians greatly. The second is about immigration. There are about 3.2 million Indians in the US, and more and more youngsters are moving to the land of opportunities. Much more are going for higher studies. The tightening of the visas and immigration rules might affect these people.  Thirdly, till now Trump has been favouring a protectionist, isolationist rhetoric. He even commented that the international trade is rigged against the US. This attitude will also affect India if he does not switch to a more liberal approach. Moreover, Trump has several times bracketed India and China, as economic competitors. 

His victory speech was conciliatory and indicated that once he moves to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, he might forget the election rhetoric.  In fact, South Block had always believed that whoever becomes the President, India will have to deal with him or her. Also many Indian diplomats claim that the House and the Senate have taken a bi-partisan support about India and the Indian caucus has got members from both parties. Indo-US relations are at a point where it has become much stronger, and also the influence of the Indian Americans is growing.

Trump in his victory speech said, “We will get along with all those who get along with us.” India is presently closer to the US than ever before, and if Trump means what he has said, New Delhi has not much to worry. IPA 

(The views expressed are strictly personal.)

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