Modi in Trumpland

THE fifth visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the United States, this time for his first official meeting with President Donald Trump, has confirmed the subordinate role that India plays in the US-India strategic relationship.

This visit of Modi to the White House was being viewed with some apprehensions in the Indian establishment. These misgivings arose from the unpredictable and negative stance that President Trump has taken on various issues affecting India’s interests. His criticism of India vis-a-vis the Paris climate change treaty, the restrictions on H-1B visas and his emphasis on not exporting jobs out of the United States to countries like India were all potential minefields to be avoided.

The response of the Modi government has been to bend over backwards to accommodate the US strategic concerns. The joint statement issued at the conclusion of the visit is coloured with this approach.

There is a pledge to deepen defence and security cooperation. Given the obvious American interest in selling more arms and defence equipment to India which is one of the key aims of the India-US military collaboration, the joint statement announces the acquisition of aerial drones worth 2 billion dollars by India, the Sea Guardian Unmanned Aerial Systems.

The increasing scale of weapons purchases from the United States is being buttressed by the joint ventures which are in the offing between American arms companies and Indian private companies. Lockheed Martin, the American giant arms manufacturer, has signed an agreement with the TATA group for a joint venture to build  F16 fighters in India.There is a reference to the forthcoming Malabar joint exercises in the month of July which will involve apart from India and the US, Japanese naval vessels too.

After already lining up with the United States with its strategic goals in the Indian Ocean and Pacific region, the two leaders have termed their partnership as “responsible stewards” in the Asia Pacific region. The statement reiterates the stand on the South China Sea on “the importance of respecting freedom of navigation, overflight, and commerce throughout the region”, thus signaling Modi's continued willingness to align against China.

Trump’s current concern with North Korea is also reflected in the statement which has jointly condemned the continued provocations of the DPRK. For the first time India has “pledged to work together to counter the DPRK’s weapons of mass destruction programmes, including by holding accountable all parties that support these programmes.” This is the first time India has taken such an active stand against the DPRK.

Modi seems to have gone to great lengths to reassure Trump that India will exert itself to ensure that more jobs are created within America. The announcement that India would buy 100 passenger planes from Boeing was welcomed by Trump. He stated that this will help create jobs in the United States. Similarly, the joint statement talks of concluding contractual agreements between Westinghouse Electric Company and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India for six nuclear reactors. Westinghouse had recently declared bankruptcy. The Modi government has decided to spend Indian tax payers’ money to help revive the company at a time when there is no guarantee that Westinghouse and its owner Toshiba will be in a position to actually go ahead with the nuclear project.

Despite the protectionist stance of the Trump administration, the joint statement hypocritically talks about defending the principles of free and fair trade. The proposal to undertake a comprehensive review of the trade relations between the two countries has an ominous ring. It must be seen in the context of what Trump told Modi during the talks that barriers to the export of American goods to India must be removed and the trade deficit reduced. The review would encompass steps to protect technology and innovation which would mean more stringent application of the intellectual property rights; increasing market access in areas such as agriculture, information technology and manufactured goods and services, which would all represent more efforts by the United States to prise open Indian market.

There is no mention of how the US will assist India in promoting make in India through manufacturing and technology investments; there is no word about how the US will fulfil its obligations to help India acquire green technology to meet India’s climate change treaty goals; there is no assurance about the continuance of H-1B visa facilities for Indian professionals.

The only outcome which the Modi government can flaunt is the reference in the joint statement that Pakistan should ensure its territory is not used to launch terrorist attacks on other countries. This was in addition to what earlier joint statements with President Obama had done, which is to call upon Pakistan to bring to justice the perpetrators of the Mumbai and other terrorist attacks. However, the Trump administration continues to see Pakistan as a key player in tackling the intractable situation in Afghanistan.

Despite Modi's ostentatious efforts to hug Trump thrice during their encounter, the joint statement, predictably, shows that Trump’s concerns have been accorded priority while India’s interests have been studiously ignored.

(June 29, 2017)

Newsletter category: