This Monday’s Modi Trump meet disappointed a lot of Indians who expected that this Modi visit, like the previous one, would be a grand affair. Modi’s 2017 US trip did not turn out as dramatic as in 2014 when he did a roadshow in Madison Garden, New York. That visit was also marked by the joint visit of Obama and Modi to the Martin Luther King Memorial.
Indeed, the Modi Trump summit has proved to be a damp squib. Or has it?
Tough as nails
Narendra Modi and Donald Trump are both businessmen at heart. They think, talk and dream business. Trump runs an enormously successful business while Modi has been the chief minister of Gujarat for more than a decade. Gujarat is one of the most business-friendly states in India.
Modi has withstood several political attacks on him during his career and this has made him a ‘tough as nails’ person. Before he became the PM of India, Narendra Modi was put on a list of people who were denied the US Visa. Nevertheless, he has rebounded from all these attacks and is now counted as a world leader by many political commentators.
On the other hand, Trump is an unpredictable politician, forever ready to settle for short-term benefits. The cancellation of the Paris Treaty demonstrates his unstable nature and his disdain for political correctness.
It was therefore expected that in the Modi Trump meet, both the leaders would ask for concessions from each other and fail.
This Monday, when the Indian Prime Minister and the US President finally met, things happened as expected. Both the leaders played to the gallery and tried to consolidate their supporter base.
Both the countries asked Pakistan to stop supporting terror groups from its soil. This is music for the Indians. A few days back, the US had declared Syed Salahuddin, a Pakistani national, as a global terrorist.
Without explicitly calling Pakistan a terrorist country, the United States called upon that country to expeditiously bring to justice all those responsible for 26/11 and other attacks.
Perhaps, Mr. Modi will use this declaration as some kind of a national accomplishment. Pakistan will be put on the mat once again by Indian policy makers and that country will once again be mocked on TV channels and in newspapers.
But we do not know how much of all this actually going to take shape. There is the added question of David Headley, a terrorist who is lodged in the US prisons. Will America agree to India’s demands for Headley’s extradition? Everybody knows that he was an important part of the 26/11 plot. Mr. Modi must demand Headley’s extradition while being a state guest of the US.
As was expected, platitudes ran thick and fast in the heavy political air of Washington. Trump congratulated Modi in leading India on a fast growth path. He quipped that America will very quickly match India’s growth rate of 6-7 percent. Political and economic observers are not confident of Trump’s claim, though. It would be a tough task for the US to even achieve a 4-5 percent growth.
Trump also compared his social media presence with Modi’s. Even as I write this article, Modi is just 100,000 followers short of Trump’s.
Like a businessman eager to sell his goods, Trump also termed America as a ‘true friend’ of India.
Not to be outdone, Modi gushed at the reception that he had got in the US and said that he had never felt so comfortable while traveling abroad. He thanked his American hosts for their hospitality. Modi also noted the business skills of Trump as a real estate tycoon and hoped that the US President would chart a new route to business development.
Trump termed America’s security partnership with India as ‘incredibly important’ but he did not stop at that. He also said that India and US were victims of Islamic terrorism and both will destroy this menace together.
The China angle
Why did Trump promise a security partnership with India?
Please recall the visit of the Chinese President to the US in April 2017. President Trump had gone out of the way to host the Chinese leader in one of the luxurious resorts in the US. The idea was that he would be able to prevail upon China to do something with regard to North Korea.
China did little to curb the ambitions of North Korea. Relations between North Korea and the United States have been frosty for several decades. Earlier in June 2017, US became more angry with North Korea when an American died after spending several months in captivity in that nation.
It seems that Trump has turned to India for more effective sanctions against North Korea after China ignored the US concerns.
So far, there has been a studious silence of China on the Modi Trump meet.
What did America achieve?
In the short -term, America has succeeded in selling some military equipment to India. Modi has agreed to buy a transport carrier worth USD 330 million. India also agreed to buy some military drones manufactured by the US.
Trump was eager that India should open its markets substantially to American companies. There is a wide trade deficit between India and the US which the Trump administration wants to bridge. America imports more Indian goods than vice-versa.
Did Donald Trump succeed in convincing Modi to open Indian markets? We do not know as both the leaders discussed bilateral trade and the Paris Accord behind closed doors.
The Paris Treaty question
For India, the Paris Treaty is an important tool to clean up its environment. We are an important player in this multilateral protocol which is voluntary in nature.
Also Read- The nuts and bolts of Paris Treaty
America sees this treaty as useless and counterproductive and has recently pulled out of this protocol. Trump has accused India and China of profiteering from the Paris Treaty.
Modi has termed Paris Treaty as important for not just India’s climate but of the overall good of the world. India, as part of its commitment to this Treaty, has cut back on setting up of some coal-fired power plants.
Some political commentators were concerned that the Modi Trump meet might be affected by the American decision on the Prais Treaty. However, we still do not know what was discussed by both of them on this subject behind closed doors.
Was it haggling?
It was expected that Trump would haggle for trade concessions while offering a security partnership to India. And haggle he did.
Addressing the Indian Prime Minister, Trump said that he wanted India to loosen up the trade restrictions so that more Americans could get jobs. Modi was just ready for this kind of bargaining and that is why he said that today Americans find India to be a better place to do business with.
H-I B Visa issue
After he became the US President, Trump vowed to protect the jobs of his fellow Americans. He promptly placed restrictions on skilled foreign workers who wanted to come and work in the US.
His decision impacted several Indian IT companies which send several employees to the US to manage their offsite projects. Trump’s decision has led to a concern in India regarding the loss of jobs in the Indian IT sector. Did Modi bring up this subject in his recent meeting with Trump? A recent statement from the White House says that the HI-B visa issue was not discussed between Trump and Modi.
Modi Trump meet – key takeaways
As expected, this summit has not exactly produced great results. Trump got a few military orders and Modi took home a security partnership.
Neither of them, apparently, spoke about the visa issue which is of vital importance to the survival of the Indian IT industry. It is possible that Modi would himself have not broached this subject as the IT sector does not contribute very significantly to the Indian economy.
Perhaps, in the months to come, Trump would use the visa issue as a bargaining chip to force India to open up her market.
As regards Salahuddin, don’t expect the Americans to do the dirty work; the task of neutralising this dreaded task is now that of India’s. The Americans will simply look away.