- India is keen that the bilateral relationship is not transactional while Trump’s views on all relationships is all about deals.
- This is a huge concern to India.
A sparkling new wall has been built in Ahmedabad to hide the slums from the gaze of United States President Donald Trump on his maiden visit to India. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised him a record crowd of 7 million people to greet him.
Trump almost seems to mock Modi when he mentions the number of adoring crowds -- the multitudes that will line up to pay tribute to him.
Tiny problem: the actual population of Ahmedabad is 5.6 million as per the last census.
While publicly India is putting up a great face, uneasy diplomatic rumbles are on. I had tweeted seven days ago that Trump apart from the First Lady Melania Trump will be accompanied by his daughter and advisor Ivanka Trump. The Modi government launched an inquiry into who leaked it to me. Priorities of the Modi government.
Trump has cleverly played Modi on his weakness for being recognised as a “friend” of the powerful. Trump has several times said: “The USA is not well treated by India in terms of trade tariffs, but I like Modi.”
An improvement from candidate Trump saying: “I like the Hindu.” By astutely working on Modi’s weakness Trump might extract a mini trade deal entirely in the US’s favour.
Modi with his determination to never share the limelight with any rival politician has already forgotten Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and his deputy Manish Sisodia from the Delhi school event of the First Lady.
Democracy in peril
In a juvenile display, which does not behove a democracy, only two Opposition leaders - Ghulam Nabi Azad and Adhir Chowdhary of the Congress - have been invited by Rashtrapati Bhavan for the state banquet in honour of the President and First Lady. Former prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi are not invited. Nor are the leaders of any other opposing party.
In fact, Modi has not even invited senior leaders of his own alliance such as Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. A huge opportunity to showcase a bipartisan, mature democracy has been lost to Modi’s petty ego.
The event in Ahmedabad at the world’s largest cricket stadium - Motera - is the Indian version of Howdy Modi. And, virtually gives Trump an election rally before he heads back to campaign for his second term. Trump will barely spend three hours in Ahmedabad and the cost will be ₹ 100 crores excluding the wall to shield his view.
Rs100CroresTrump will barely spend three hours in Ahmedabad and the cost will be sky high
Experts who I spoke to for this SWAT analysis are divided on the gains and optics of this trip. The major concern is that Modi by his actions in Howdy Modi and now Namaste Trump is putting India on the side of the Republicans and is possibly the first country in the world to unequivocally endorse a president.
Expect blowback from the Democratic Party, which has been watching Modi’s moves with much concern and upping the ante on the Modi government’s actions and lockdown in Kashmir. All the bluster in the world from newly minted foreign minister S. Jaishankar is not going to tamp down global concern as the world is alarmed with India’s recent actions, which seem to put our democracy in peril.
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Even “friend of Modi” Trump will raise religious freedom and the lockdown in Kashmir with Modi. The lecture will be even worse as the US with its recent moves has started hurting Indian exports badly. This month the US declared India would not be treated like a developing country when it comes to trading rules. This is terrible for Indian exports already suffering because of the Modi government’s measures.
India is keen that the bilateral relationship is not transactional while Trump’s views on all relationships is all about deals. This is a huge concern to India.
With the Indian US nuclear deal India had succeeded in removing the hyphenation with Pakistan. The Modi government’s actions have brought us back to square one. Trump has repeatedly offered to mediate between India and Pakistan.
While the two-day visit will be nerve wracking Trump being Trump, at least the entire Trump family will be able to pose before a cleaned up and sanitised Taj Mahal in Agra. The backdrop is Instagram perfect. The India US relationship - well that will take work beyond optics.