Reasons for not inviting Trump to India


Image result for pics of trump and modi

(Two strongman buddies)

Returned from a summer holiday to read that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is contemplating inviting US President Donald J Trump as the chief guest for the 2019 Republic Day celebrations in the expectation that this will brighten his own and the ruling BJP’s prospects in the general elections to be held no later than May next year. Well, good luck! (Though what one hears everywhere in Delhi is that Modi will hold the national elections at the same time as the Rajasthan state polls in November this year to prevent the bad effects of the anticipated rout for the Raje regime there from cascading into disastrous general election results.)

Not sure who is advising Modi about inviting Trump. May be such thinking is the result of his own instincts, and the slight acquaintanceship he established with Trump in the two meets the two strongman leaders have had to-date. Or, may be it is Ram Madhav — the PM’s RSS-affiliated adviser on foreign affairs, whose exposure to America and knowledge about Washington and generally about foreign affairs seems as thin as that of the Prime Minister, whispering into his ears. In any case, should an invite actually be sent to the White House, Modi must be prepared to see Trump end up spoiling what chances he has for re-election.

The reason is simple. Modi may think he is inviting a friend, a fellow alpha-male leader, with whom he can break bread and talk business. Except Trump is not the nice, effete, Obama of the 2016 Republic Day dais, who sat gamely through the unending parade down Rajpath. Trump will have none of it. With an extraordinarily small attention span and mercurial nature Trump is as likely as not to stalk off the VVIP reviewing platform  just as the little girls begin performing their set piece dances, etc — he has little patience for cultural things. He will reduce Modi, scampering after him, to a public joke televised to all the world to chortle over.

The fact is Trump takes special joy in mangling the agreed upon protocol and to embarrass his hosts. Ask the German chancellor Angela Merkel at the recent G-7 Meet, the French President Emmanuel Macron with his white-knuckled handshake with Trump, or better still a fellow Commonwealth leader, the British PM Theresa May who this past week discovered Trump’s disruptive attitude to every thing. To her chagrin and that of her government, the bumptious New York realty magnate thought literally nothing about bumping the British monarch, the 92-year old, Elizabeth-II, off her stride, walking ahead of her as they reviewed the House Guard troops in their bearskin hats.  It was comical to see the poor doddering old queen trying to squeeze in ahead of Trump, and still later at the state dinner, kept waiting, fidgeting, looking lost and upset, for a goodly amount of time — in real time 12 minutes, in protocol time, an age —  as she awaited the US President. But that was not all. On the eve of his departure for London, in an interview to a tabloid — which by the way is the max level of seriousness he can muster at his best, Trump blasted May for seeking a soft Brexit  that retains some economic and other linkages with the European Union, and stoked the embers of Conservative Party revolt against May, and the next day when he met with the British PM at Checquers — the British PM’s country residence, walked back his criticism and suggested that nothing was amiss in the bilateral relations — as if all the ruckus he had created hadn’t happened. He had planned to meet with arch Brexiteers — Nigel Farage and May’s cabinet colleague Jacob Rees-Mogg with a view to giving May the shove over the edge but Whitehall put its foot down, said he couldn’t meet with them on this official visit.

Trump has made no bones about the fact that he loves dealing with “strongman” leaders, such as the Russian and North Korean Presidents Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un, whom he respected, he has said, because they had played their cards strongly,  calling them not rivals or adversaries but “competitors”. (See the report in the Guardian, Putin and Kim are leaders Trump likes because they deal with him as an equal, each of them capable and quite ready to do Trump and the US harm if they are pushed to do so.

Modi is not in this category of strongmen that Trump likes, because the hugs and the bonhomie when they meet  apart, the Indian PM greets Trump with the perennial begging bowl — pleading for something or the other — concessions on H1B visas, lately waivers from CAATSA sanctions on Russian arms and Iranian oil, trade concessions, etc. A supplicant can be coerced and manipulated, his country’s interests can be disregarded. Hence Modi and India do not command Trump’s respect or his regard and attention. The Indian leader can thus be trifled with. Had Modi from the beginning assumed the attitude of he and India wanting nothing from Trump and the US, but making it plain his government would wield access to the second largest market in the world as leverage, and that India would be the international system balancer as between US and China, China and Russia, and Russia and the US, and no nonsense about it, he’d have telegraphed the right message to the White House.

I had written in July 2016 — some 4 months before Trump’s election in November that year, that Trump would be “good for India” because he will treat it as a 2nd-rate country, leaving Delhi  “with no alternative than to fend for itself and safeguard its extended interests. It will be a signal departure in that India will, per force, have to discard the habit of leaning on foreign countries for anything, ruthlessly pare the government and the public sector, task the private sector with the bulk of economic effort, including achieving self-sufficiency in armaments, and, with regard to foreign and military policies, insert steel in them, make them disruptive, reorient Indian diplomacy towards realpolitik, and enable India to emerge as an independent power that friends and foes alike fear and respect as much for its clout as its unpredictability.” [See and re-published in this blog of July 29. 2016] Such was not the sort of thinking that informed Modi’s government or the Indian media, for that matter, whence the hole India is in vis a vis the US.

What’s the best way to deal with Trump? At the underway Helsinki summit, Putin means “to take advantage” of Trump being “a moron…, a novice to be played” [See the story in the UK paper The Independent, July  15, ]

Trouble is Modi can’t play Trump for a moron because the Indian PM lacks Putin’s strategic vision, and nerve, verve and the skill-set to play hardball with any country other than the piddling Pakistan. So should Modi indeed decide to invite Trump — it will be Trump’s show — not Modi’s, at India’s Republic Day 2019, and the Indian PM will stand belittled, gutting what hope he now nurses of continuing to reside at 7, Race Course Road for another 5 years.

So, if there is any residual sense left in the Indian government then DON’T INVITE TRUMP to anything. Get India’s game up and going, introduce steel in the country’s foreign and military policies, don’t snivel before China,  seek no considerations from the US on any issue, and ditch the “foundational accords”.  The H1B visa types and the Indian IT industry will take care of themselves. If they fail to take this advice Modi and his crew will have to look back ruefully at this post for the warning that went unheeded.

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
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18 Responses to Reasons for not inviting Trump to India

  1. Rupam Das says:

    Any update on the book Bharat ji?

  2. AD says:


    I am glad that you have succinctly pointed out the fundamental problem with inviting Trump to any official visit of India. And this brings me to a few things which I have never fully understood about the mindset of Indian politicians, bureaucrats etc.

    Why are so many of them still interested in photo-ops with western (white) heads of states, senior bureaucrats, diplomats etc? Why are they so eager to seek such meetings, suck up to those people and smile stupidly standing next to them even when the other party is clearly treating them with mockery, contempt and general disdain? Don’t they have shred of self-respect? Are they oblivious to uselessness of such photo-ops and signing MoUs not worth the paper they are printed on?

    Even seven decades after ‘independence’, these “leaders” are displaying levels of servility and a lack of strategic vision that are almost identical to those of fat and impotent maharajahs during British colonial occupation of India. Isn’t it sad that Indira Gandhi was the only Indian PM who consistently displayed self-respect, strategic vision and pragmatism? Why has every PM since her, to varying degrees, been so willing to be enthralled by fake promises from west and other countries?

    • No, Indira G was just as susceptible to these same traits of a colonized mindset. You should hear MEA officials who were with her in the PM’s meetings with Western leaders to be disabused of any such notion. Standing up to the Nixon-Kissinger duo in 1971 was a one-off thing. The tale about how cravenly she submitted to US pressure to discontinue with the 1974 tests remains to be told.

      • AD says:


        I see.. so IG was almost as bad on this issue as others. The original question still remains. Why are Indian politicians, bureaucrats, admin-types etc so weak-kneed and pathetic when dealing with the west? Where does this need for “white approval” come from?

        As we have recently seen- the leadership of a poorer, much smaller and relatively isolated country such as DPRK can stand up to the West and get what they want. Why are they not desperate for “western approval” in sharp contrast to their Indian counterparts? We know that far smaller and poorer countries like Vietnam stood up to USA and ultimately got what they wanted. Yet, somehow, the leadership of a country of over 1.3 billion people and easily among the 5 largest economies in existence act like spineless losers.

        Living under colonialism is not a sufficient explanation since leadership of many smaller Asian countries which were also once colonized by West display far more self-respect and pragmatism than their counterparts in India. Also, it has been over seven decades (and three generations) since India got independence. Isn’t that enough time to develop a spine and grow a pair? Clearly, there are factors other than a history of colonialism at work here.

    • Vishnugupt says:

      @AD : ” Clearly, there are factors other than a history of colonialism at work here.”

      WOW, you don’t get it, do you?

      Like the Prof. said allure of dollars,Green Card, and admission for their dumb kids in IVY league colleges has historically made the proverbial India netas and babus bend over backwards in front of the “firangs”. Aren’t these reason enough to make them act the way they do?

      The Netas and Babus of today are not in awe of the colour of the skin of the firang but the luxury and comfort of his country.
      Which they know they will never see in India in their life time because, well it is “they” who are “supposed” to make India a better a place. And who else knows better than them that it is never gonna happen.

      I know it is a cliche, but do you know why, our netas get away with corruption, because deep down you and i believe that “iss desh ka kuch nahi ho sakta”(this nation has no future) and we get on with our lives by “adjusting a little”.

      So, if you are genuinely “concerned” about India, then stop chasing a “ghost of a reason” and acknowledge the aforementioned root cause called “corruption”. And do something if can about it.

      • AD says:


        In that case, could you explain why the incentive of green cards and ivy league seats for children of leaders and senior bureaucrats does not work (anywhere as well) in China? And let me be very clear- the Chinese are not a more honest or decent people than Indians. So what makes the Chinese leadership and administrative cadre so resistant to same western temptations that make their Indian equivalents fold like cheap suits?

        But it is not just China. Even smaller Asian countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam are able to maintain a decent transactional relationship with USA without bending backwards to please them. Also look at how USA will bend backwards to satisfy whims of the inbred gulf state rulers. Clearly, there are cultural factors which make Indian leadership and bureaucrats especially susceptible to western state influence.

        And about that “corruption” issue.. China, once again, has pretty high levels of corruption in its bureaucracy and society. Oddly enough, all that corruption has little impact on their ability to get things done. Now compare that to India, where everyone says that “corruption” is root of all problems and not much gets done. Ever considered the possibility that deliberate institutional incompetence (a legacy of colonial admin system) rather than simple corruption is the cause of many systemic problems in India?

    • Vishnugupt says:

      “And let me be very clear- the Chinese are not a more honest or decent people than Indians.”

      Again what you have described applys to the general Chinese population and they have no say whatsoever in the policy decision of their nation,and the country is effectively ruled by not more than half a dozen guys, who are answerable to no one for their successes and failures, i hope you noticed how XI JINGPING made himself emperor for life, so clearly he has a lot of incentive to do good for his kingdom as he “owns” it .(Let this sink in a little bit in your mind).
      Apply this to Vietnam,North Korea,Russia,Pakistan,Turkey,Saudi Arabia etc. where there is no functional opposition parties.

      Now in a “DEMOCRACY” where leaders have to be popular to get elected and reelected and have to remain popular to sustain their reign as they are in a “PERPETUAL WAR” with the opposition(specially in a country like India).They are more worried about domestic politics than foreign policy.This is the Achilles Heel of democracy.(This is allegedly why Modi is said to be pushing for simultaneous elections)

      This is why Indian leaders think only short term i.e for 5 years. Because they cannot be sure if they will be reelected again. So they make the best of these 5 years for themselves and their families.(Thus they have a lot of incentive to be corrupt when compared to Dictators)

      Now, i am not saying dictators are honest people, they are far from it, just as it so happens as they don’t have a fixed tenure for their rule, they don’t go all out to loot the nation in a short span of time like their counterparts in democracies, because they have their natural lives to enjoy the spoils, and they have the incentive to do good as they are assured to enjoy the benefits it might this is why most dictators are decisive leaders, who appease none.

      So democracies are designed to dis empower leaders to take risky steps.

      So, your answer lies in the inherent design flaws of a democratic government and the apathy to weed out corruption.

      Trust me mate, there is no other “hidden” cultural flaw.

  3. Veeru says:

    Indira Gandhi was a slave of Soviet Union

  4. AD@ — There are other factors. And it is the “green card” syndrome that the senior echelons of the political class, the civil services and the military are afflicted by (and related to this, a US policy support eco-system in place led by Washington thinktanks in Delhi and the America-besotted media, which I have written about and are discussed in extenso in my forthcoming book — ‘Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition’.

  5. avkirankumar says:

    sir who do you think will be the best choice for republic day keeping in mind the way we should play our foreign policy.

    • President of Mongolia — an incredibly strategically located and extremely friendly country, which time and again Delhi has disappointed by not delivering on promises. Dreaming, I know, but imagine placing N-Agni-2s & 3s in that country to immensely complicate China’s military calculus!

      • Vishnugupt says:

        Prof. Do you think Delhi will approve a perpetual overt basing of Indian Army in Mongolia?

        Otherwise, sooner or later PLA will have these weapons compromised, given the fact that a indisciplined, novice and corrupt Mongolian army would be protecting these missiles.
        I think Delhi have to operate these missiles by itself to be absolutely sure of its reliability.

        The President of Mongolia may very well have Jengis Khan’s blood running through his veins but sheer valor and ruthlessness ceased to be a currency in modern warfare a long time ago.

  6. Vishnugupt@ — We will never know if the issue isn’t directly broached to Ulan Bator. Mongolia, if adequately incentivised, may well allow placement of Indian military crews to manage the emplaced Agni batteries.

  7. sushll says:

    What you are saying makes some sense from the perspective of popularity and elections. But how can you be so flippant about India’s defence imperatives, state of self reliance in critical technologies especially defence, how can you dismiss IT industry which has been the mainstay of India’s economy and its global mascot. Their are realities and old encumbering baggage that Modi cannot choose to ignore

    • Not dismissing the Indian IT industry. The fact is it is resilient and will adjust to the different milieus it has to work in (like increasing recruitment in the US, etc. that’s been ongoing since the Obama Admin days and the initiation of the ‘in-sourcing’ policy — the precursor of Trump’s policy to close the H1B wormhole). My point is Modi’s pleadings never had a chance and so far have fetched India nothing. In any case, India’s national interest cannot be allowed to be manipulated by Washington dangling concessions on H1B etc.

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