Just returned from an extended session this morning on News X TV channel covering Donald Trump’s 1st State of the Union address to the US Congress. Firstly, not sure why the Indian media is stuck on covering purely internal American events with often embarrassing interest, unless, of course, they mean to cater to the aspirational middle class in small and big Indian towns and cities who hope, somehow, to secure a ticket to the land of their dreams. That ticket, in recent times has been provided by the H1B or L-1 visa, which immigration channel; has buttressed the traditional longstanding route into the US — the I-20 student visa.
What few Indian commentators understand and have, therefore, not noted is that the chief attraction for these would-be Indian “economic refugees” to America of once settling down there is the “family reunification” provision open to any legal migrant. This has been used by several generations of Indians to cart not just their spouses but the extended family into the US, namely, parents, parents-in-law, siblings of either or both sides. On average, a single Indian immigrant can thus take an additional 10-12 persons with him. That door is now getting shut.
Trump has declared in his address that his immigration policy will allow persons with merit to legally come into America but not immigrants who can’t fend for themselves economically or are otherwise unable to contribute in a substantive way to the US. AS he said, he will especially bar the group of people seeking to migrate to the US who will end up being a burden on the social and public services of that country.
Foreign Secretary Jaishankar and Prime Minister Narendra Modi will try and modify that stance by emphasizing, as newspaper reports suggest, the wealth the HiB/L1 visa holders create and their contribution to the US economy and hence the advisability of retaining, if not enlarging, these entry channels. This will not cut mustard with the Trump Administration.
But let’s assume for argument’s sake that Washington stays its hand on closing down the H1B/L1 route, how motivated will potential Indian immigrants to America be once they discover they can’t import a whole bunch of their family members into the US? I suspect there will be a definite falloff of interest.
That said, this is a great opportunity for the Modi government to reverse its fairly foolish policy of encouraging an ever bigger Indian brain drain to the US and the West in the hope of using the thus expanding Indian population in the US, in particular, as political and diplomatic leverage, and as external support base able to support the Bharat Janata Party monetarily. But Trump’s rejection of free trade and the notion of competitive advantage of countries as driver of international commerce means he will be more than happy to see still larger quantities of the sorts of things the Modi government seems keen on acquiring — old weapons (M-777 ULH) and platforms (F-16), but not let up or give even an inch to other countries. As he pointedly reminded his audience worldwide — “I have been elected to be President of America”, not president of the world.
And India can expect no real help or assistance to counter China or contain terrorism emanating from Pakistan or elsewhere beyond Trump’s interpretation of US interests, and he will expect India to pay for every little bit of security it gains therefrom! The US president had made plain that Asian partners, allies, friends will all have to ante up monies, there being no such thing as free security, any more than there’s “free lunch”.
If Modi and his PMO, and Jaishankar and Co. at MEA haven’t grasped this essential, fundamentally changed, reality, then there’s lots more New Delhi is going to keep getting wrong to the nation’s detriment. To repeat what I have said in previous posts, PM Modi, adapting himself to the new conditions, should prepare for hard, and possibly futile, negotiation in which because Trump will not concede even a sliver of advantage. The question is will, can, Modi rein in his fascination with America, and his apparently natural inclination to please Westerners, long enough to prevent Trump having his way with India?
Trump’s “Make in America, Buy American” call is clear indication of his intent. The trouble is Modi’s “Make in India”, whatever its intent, for all practical purposes, translates into “Buy American” and assemble the product in India! GOI better get into its head that hereafter the only way the national interest will be served is to match the Trump Administration and be severely transactional which, realistically, may be beyond Modi to manage.