Treading a fine line on India

Though Trump was aligned with India on fighting terrorism, he was not aligned in his core message of trade-and-jobs, in which he blamed India and China for taking away American jobs.



By Aditya Sinha

Published: Wed 9 Nov 2016, 7:04 PM

Last updated: Wed 9 Nov 2016, 9:08 PM

Though, as is the norm in global conduct, PM Narendra Modi's government did not openly endorse either of the US presidential candidates, enough of its proxies were long enthusiastic about the victorious Republican nominee Donald Trump. There will be a fair amount of joy in New Delhi. It is not just that prominent right-wing ideologues and think-tankers saw Clinton as inimical to India; even liberal Indians felt that a Hillary win would not lead to the kind of bonhomie and "hugs" that Modi shared with Obama aka his "friend Barack"; all of Lutyens Delhi feared she would have rebalanced the US-Pakistan and US-China relationships at India's cost. The conservative Indian also saw a potential Trump triumph as part of a nativist, ideologically-similar worldwide movement that resulted in Brexit and Duertes' win in Phillipines, among other things.
On the fringe there were public displays of support for Trump when the Hindu Sena (which couldn't possibly be aligned with anyone other than the RSS-BJP group) held prayers for the Republican, even pouring milk on his photograph.
Though Trump was aligned with India on fighting terrorism, he was not aligned in his core message of trade-and-jobs, in which he blamed India and China for taking away American jobs. He has promised to get those jobs back, and that can't mean an increase in H1-B visas for Indian IT workers. The fact is, New Delhi is uncertain of how President-elect Trump will steer bilateral relations. This is partly due to his policy ambiguity on issues that impact bilateral relations. For instance, Trump has said he is not against allies developing nuclear weapons. Does that mean that he will support India's quest for membership in the Nuclear Suppliers' Group (NSG), even though China has already made it clear that it is out of the question? Will Trump try to persuade China, as Obama had done earlier? Will he be too busy "renegotiating trade deals" with China, as he repeatedly promised on the campaign trail? Will he ask India for something in return? Will he care?
India-US relations, though travelling an arc of growing closeness, was always going to hinge on the future of US-China relations. Trump says he will be a tough negotiator, but Xi Jinping is no less tough. Also, the US establishment wants to improve relations with a rising and emboldened China; does this mean that New Delhi's importance lessens, in deference to Beijing?
It is difficult to predict what the Trump presidency will mean to India precisely because Trump has never held office or served in the military, and as a businessman his mindset is one of dealing with matters on a case-by-case basis rather than as part of a paradigm of international relations. It may work for New Delhi at times but at others it may not. It is prudent for New Delhi to hold off on the celebrations for Trump is going to be as tough a customer as anyone if his interests and ours don't converge. At the very least it won't be business as usual.

The writer is a senior journalist based in India


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