September 29, 2019

The Modi-Trump Show in Houston

THE spectacle that Narendra Modi put up at Houston before a 50,000 strong audience of Indian-Americans has, once again, underlined the subservience that Modi has brought into Indo-US relations.  The Modi-Trump joint appearance in the stadium was nothing but a platform offered to Trump to woo Indian origin Americans in view of the forthcoming presidential election campaign. 

In a first, for an Indian prime minister, Modi virtually endorsed Trump for president by repeating the slogan, ‘Abki Baar Trump Sarkar’, which was earlier voiced by Trump himself during the last presidential election. 

For Trump, joining Narendra Modi’s political show and lavishing praise on him was worthwhile as it was being held in Houston in Texas. Texas has been a traditional Republican state which is seeing some Democratic advance and hence Trump was eager to garner whatever additional support possible. 

Modi and his advisors like foreign minister, Jaishankar, were also hoping that for this show of support to Trump, there would be a quid-pro-quo in getting Trump to be silent on the happenings in Kashmir and not heeding Imran Khan’s entreaties on this score. An additional gain, it was hoped, would be getting an agreement on trade.

gambling on Trump’s predilections and hoping to mollify him is a hazardous business. Though India sought to sweeten the proposed trade deal with a $ 2.5 billion investment by Petronet in an American company, Tellurian, for which an updated MoU was signed in Houston, no trade agreement was announced when Modi and Trump met for talks officially in New York. Despite the presence of the commerce minister, Piyush Goyal, in the final phase of talks, the United States would not relax its stand on various issues. Thus India is faced with enhanced tariffs on a whole range of goods with the US demanding more concessions and greater access to the Indian market.

The Modi government is also willing to go to any extent to integrate India with the US geo-political strategy in Asia.  After first agreeing to join the Quadrilateral Forum at the level of joint secretaries, India agreed to an upgrade with a meeting of the foreign ministers of the quad – US, Japan, Australia and India – in New York.  The futility of its Pakistan-centric approach to its relations with the United States also became evident when President Trump met Prime Minister Imran Khan and once again declared his readiness to mediate on Kashmir, if the leaders of both countries wanted him to.  As long as Trump’s aim of withdrawing US forces from Afghanistan remains, Pakistan will continue to be an indispensable ally.

There is also another reason for Narendra Modi’s extravagant show of support to Trump at Houston. Just like Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, Narendra Modi is an ideological soul-mate of Donald Trump. They all share a rightwing, ethno-nationalistic ethos. By declaring his fealty to Trump, Modi has revealed his own reactionary worldview. 

(September 25, 2019)