March 01, 2020

Trump in India

THE visit of United States president, Donald Trump, to India was like none other by an American president in recent times.  Though a State visit, the highlight was the “Namaste Trump” event at the Motera Stadium in Ahmedabad, where Narendra Modi enacted an Indian version of ‘Howdy Modi’ in Houston last year.  However it would not be correct to dismiss this show as just ‘optics’, or, a tamasha. This is the way Modi’s India is declaring its total allegiance to Trump’s America – ideologically, politically, strategically and militarily.  At no time has rightwing politics and ideology been the glue of Indo-US relations, as it is today.  It seems Modi designed the `Namaste Trump’ to help his friend Trump’s campaign for the November presidential election. 

What the Trump visit brought out is the complete hitching up of India to the United States’ geopolitical strategy with Modi subordinating all of India’s interests towards this goal. This is amply reflected in the joint statement issued at the conclusion of the visit. The Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership announced is nothing but a declaration that India has integrated fully with the strategic, defence and security interests of the United States. 

It has been clear from the time of the Indo-US nuclear deal was signed that the primary aim of the United States is to make India a trusted strategic and military ally. President Trump, in his speech at the Ahmedabad rally, had said: “I believe the United States should be India’s premier defence partner and that’s the way it is working out”. India has already bought $ 15 to 18 billion worth of arms and defence equipment from the United States in the last one decade.  Behind all Trump’s talk that India is giving the United States a raw deal on trade is the relentless pressure to buy more expensive weaponry from the US arms manufacturers.  During the visit, the agreement to purchase 24 MH-60R naval helicopters and six Apache helicopters worth $ 3 billion was announced. 

After singing two of the three so-called foundational military agreements, the joint statement indicates that the third agreement – the Basic Exchange Cooperation Agreement – will be concluded soon.  With this trio of agreements, India’s armed forces will become like the armed forces of US allies in Asia – Japan and South Korea – in terms of “interoperability” and joint activities. 

The joint statement also reflects the complete alignment of the Modi government with the United States’ “Indo-Pacific strategy”.  It talks of strengthening the United States-India-Japan trilateral summit and the quadrilateral forum comprising the United States, Japan, Australia and India.

On the domestic security front, India will develop cooperation with the US Department of Homeland Security and we can expect an increased role for US security agencies in India’s internal security affairs.

The real issue, which is plaguing Indo-US relations today is trade relations.  After a series of hostile moves by the Trump administration, including imposing increased tariffs on Indian goods and withdrawal of India’s generalised system of trade preferences, the US has taken the lead to ensure that India and other developing countries are no longer classified as developing countries in the WTO.

The United States is mounting pressure on India to sign on to an iniquitous e-commerce agreement and is opposed to India’s policy of price control on medical devices.  It is evident from the statements made during the visit that India is unable to get any of its positions accepted. The joint statement only talks of negotiations for a proposed phase one of a bilateral trade agreement. 

The Modi government has no room left to negotiate on trade, e-commerce, data localisation or any other matter vital to India’s interests vis-à-vis the US.

The stage has been reached in India-US strategic relations wherein India’s strategic autonomy and capacity for an independent foreign policy has become severely restricted.  Recently, when the US assassinated Iran’s top general, Soleimani, India did not condemn it.  Earlier, when the United States demanded that India should stop imports of Iranian oil, the Modi government promptly complied. Instead India is now compelled to buy US oil and gas and make a virtue out of it.  India has not even criticised the totally one-sided peace agreement proposed between Israel and Palestine whereby Israel can more or less annex all the occupied territories.  Shockingly, the ministry of external affairs had asked Israel and Palestinians to consider Trump’s peace proposal.

Despite this client status to which India has been reduced to, it is a sign of the times that every step Modi takes in this direction is hailed as a great step forward for India by the ruling circles and the corporate media.  The damage done to India by Modi’s subservient attitude to Trump is immense. 
(February 26, 2020)