U.S. President Donald Trump’s visit to India turned to political hues rather than tremendous progress toward a comprehensive accord. Therefore, the bilateral agreement between India and U.S. deserves to be seen through diplomatic lenses only as there remains much to accomplish, and the upcoming change in the U.S. after the presidential election will test the relationship. Trump’s maiden trip in the last four years of his presidentship without a big trade deal may lure number of questions as the trip remained only optics and professionally managed for the upcoming U.S. presidential election scheduled in November of this year. On the other hand, The trump’s visit had also been much excited and enthusiastic for India as Narendra Modi emerged as world powerful leader and also seems to have closed bonding with the U.S. president, but there has been comparatively less activity during Trump’s first term, so it’s important for the two sides to get a win in the arms sales arena. Although, the meeting of the two leaders focused on taking forward the strategic partnership with closer cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region and increased defence agreements, beyond a buyer-seller relationship. But, the bilateral agreement between India and USA points out to the deeper political interpretations as Trump’s visit to India commenced with a big road show followed by a mega event in the world’s largest cricket stadium packed of one lakh Gujarati people who may act as catalyst for influencing the upcoming presidential election. This piece of writing drew a glimpse of the Indo-U.S. defence deals through political lenses.
Decoding Trump’s aspirations towards huge crowds over little trade progress
The world remained thrilled and keen to observe the output from bilateral deals between the world’s oldest democracy and the world’s biggest democracy as scheduled trip of Donald Trump to India had been garnished like a political rally with the purpose of seeking huge crowds. In lieu of tendering a grand welcome to the President, lakh of people was deployed on the road as a courtesy, leaving ample scope for political interpretations of the mega event as the world always happened to be an eye witness of diplomacy and deals occurred from the closed-room. Although, India and the U.S. have signed defence, energy and telecoms deals, but failed to reach a much-talked about trade accord and Trump’s 36 hours visit concluded with India consented to purchase military equipment, including attack helicopters, worth $3 billion followed by mutual commitment in fighting against terrorism and in securing 5G networks. Further, any big trade accord with the U.S. may be enhanced in the upcoming year provided that Trump’s re-election into the U.S. government, which may prove as harbouring unrealistic expectations for India. Therefore, Trump’s visit to India may be linked from the Hody, Modi! Event in Houston, Texas when Narendra Modi said, “Abki Baar, Trump Sarkar.” while addressing over 50,000 Indian-Americans in 2019. Trump kept on aspiring to have huge gathering during his state visit to India, and everything other than a very big trade deal seemed to have gone according to the script. A big trade deal with India has been put on waiting list till Trump’s re-occupation for the white house and the visit could only make him popular abroad of negotiating good deals with India as he himself once described as the “king of tariffs” as India-US relations has been hard-hitting due to the high tariff imposition on US products. Hence, Trump had his aspirations fulfilled despite not agreeing on a much talked-about trade agreement.
Decoding Narendra Modi’s enthusiasm towards Trump’s India trip
The optics of the trip were also crucial for Narendra Modi as he needed some good headlines globally after reactions and condemnation occurred due to his controversial decision to abrogate Article 370 of Indian constitution and the ongoing protests against newly enacted Constitutional Amendment Act (CAA) 2019. There has been backfiring of Trump’s visit for Narendra Modi as incidences of deadly clashes over anti CAA began to overshadow the public narrative. The ongoing anti CAA protest got converted into the mass violence, killing 42 people on the same day of Trump’s visit to Delhi. Though, Trump showed his matured diplomatic conduct by distancing himself from queries on CAA, appraising Narendra Modi for his capability and competencies of handling the situations. On the other hand, people have been thrilled with high expectations of achieving a big trade deals from Trump’s visit as there have been number of headlines showing personal chemistry of the two leaders. However, Trump remained himself engaged in attaining pre-planned functions and did not skip any opportunity for portraying Narendra Modi as powerful leader and statesman rather than finalizing a big trade deal with India. The political interpretations of Narendra Modi’s speech delivered in 2019 at Hody, Modi event in U.S. kept us, reminding of resemblance in ‘Namaste Trump’’ event organized in Ahmedabad, where Trump’s speech kept on moving around emotional and touchy statements such as Tea seller for Modi, DDLG for Bollywood movies, Sachin Tendulkar as cricket legend etc. Such speeches always seem to be fit and suited for election campaigning rather than diplomatic deals. Therefore, the bilateral agreement of the two sides reached without a big trade deal as Trump has tactically been very much vocal against the high tariff charges imposed on US products which may emerge a strong condition if India and USA move ahead with any future trade deals in upcoming days.
Decoding Trump’s visit and its effect on India-China partnership
An offshoot of India-U.S. bilateral deal would be inherent as rivalries between U.S. and China may extend the bitterness to India-China partnership. For the last twenty five years, the U.S. has been trying to engage India in the areas of defence and security as a part of Indo-Pacific strategy making India as a strategic partner to counter China’s growing influence. Now, the most scaring aspects of China has associated with the term “Indo-Pacific” rather than “Asia Pacific” used throughout in Trump’s speeches in India with the purpose of trying to balance the rising power of China in the region. The Indo-Pacific strategy may fade the Chinese hegemony in the Asian region provided that same pace of enthusiasm of successive U.S. government could be maintained. But, it would also be critical and crucial for Indian diplomacy to choose sides between the worlds’s two largest economies, the U.S. and China, with technology transfer being an epicentre for decision making as deal for technology transfer always happens to be a promise and pledge for India. Though, modernization of forces and defence sectors in India would depend upon an advance technology deal, which India may seek with U.S. or China according to prevalent circumstance over the time.
A new chapter in the history of bilateral cooperation between India and U.S.A. may not be incorporated following Donald Trump’s India visit as deal for technology transfer from the U.S. still remained a promise and pledge in India. Up to a certain extent, the visit has proved to be advantageous from India’s security point of view as the two countries at-least pledged to deepen and strengthen defence and security cooperation by collaborating on production of advanced military systems. India’s permanent membership for UN Security Council and entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) may be pressurized as Trump vigorously wished his support for India. The bilateral meeting of the two leaders also resulted into greater alignment and commitment on issues like China’s BRI, terrorism, Indo-Pacific Strategy.
Dr. Ahmed Raza, Assistant Professor, Department of Public Administration, MANUU (a central university), SASS Building, Gachibowli, Hyderabad, India