How Bad is the bargain in the offing? Modi & Trump

Narendra Modi in USA in 1994

[Around 1999, Modi outside the White House fence on a US State Dept-hosted trip]

A public interview of Narendra Modi at 1800 hrs last evening on ‘India’ TV channel featured the host, Rajat Sharma, lobbing fluff-ball questions but, on occasion, receiving surprisingly revealing answers from the Prime Minister. For instance, Modi said he lets his “heart rule his head” when meeting with world leaders and relies on “personal chemistry”, but uses his head when it comes to negotiating. Amplifying on his method, he added: “hum na aanken utha ke bolte hain, na ankhen juka ke, hum ankhon mein ankh daal ke bolte hain.” (I don’t raise my eyes, nor lower them, I meet the gaze of the other person.)

This “Modi operandi” about squares with his personality attributes and his approach and way of working. [For a psychological profile of Modi and comparison with the other strongmen currently on the international stage — Vladimir Putin of Russia, Donald Trump of America, Erdogan of Turkey, Xi Jinping of China and Shinzo Abe of Japan, and how his personality traits have impacted Indian politics and policies, see my latest book — ‘Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition’.] It leads one to ponder the trade and other deals he will be striking with Trump when they meet Sept 22 in Houston at the ‘Howdy, Modi!’ reception by the NRIs, and on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session the PM will address on Sept 26.

However these deals turn out, the US State Department apparently hit the jackpot when, at the turn of the last Century, it invited Narendra Modi, then a senior BJP apparatchik in Gujarat to partake of a trip for a select lot of youngish Indian political leaders who the US government hoped would be useful to US interests in the future. It was a trip Modi alluded to yesterday in the TV event. Bedazzled by the wealth, order and prosperity of the US, Modi, with his small town background, was by his own reckoning instantly besotted. The problem for the country is that he has stayed besotted ever since, when as Prime Minister he’s expected to show a bit more restraint in his enthusiasms for America, or any other country, if only to preserve India’s leverage with them, and especially Trump who believes in pushing his advantage to the max.

Modi seems now to be circling back to what generated excitement early in his first term at least among NRI communities in different parts of the world and won him international media attention. A vast arena filled with some 50,000 prosperous Indian-origin Americans, gathered in Houston, who when not screaming their support for Modi will raptly hear his speech — the usual string of self-congratulatory spiels laced this time with references to the Balakote strike and Article 370 abrogation, aimed at making the NRIs feel good about themselves, about Modi, about India. Such an event is god-sent for any politician. More so because it will be beamed live back home by Indian TV channels and lapped up by the travelling press corps.

Not one to miss a political trick or a friendly crowd, and opportunity to make capital, US President Trump has happily signed up for the event. The external affairs minister S. Jaishankar predictably deemed Trump’s presence at the Houston show as “high honour”. That Trump will thus kill several birds with a single stone, is another matter.

Trump will try and ride Modi’s coat-tails in terms of translating the regard and fan-following the BJP leader enjoys among NRIs into votes for himself and his Republican Party slate of candidates in next year’s presidential elections. Besides, Trump, like Modi, likes big boisterous tamashas with TV cameras whirring– and the Houston affair will fit that bill. But, as has already been indicated, Washington will use Trump’s agreeing to be with Modi on the podium to leverage a more advantageous trade deal for the US. That Jaishankar is overseeing the Indian negotiating team’s efforts spells danger for the national interest because his record is one of accepting the most onerous US conditions in return for small returns. His most disastrous handiwork is the 2008 nuclear deal he negotiated as Joint Secretary (Americas) in MEA, which by formalizing Delhi’s willingness to forego further underground explosive testing capped the technology level of India’s nuclear arsenal at the basic fission armaments-level.

Modi, on the other hand, besides furthering his personal diplomacy by hugging and embracing the US President, will try and project his great camaraderie with Trump as at once consolidating the special relationship he says he enjoys with Trump and as reflecting the warmth in Indo-US friendship. Modi has stoked this “friendship” by nearly “zeroing” out oil supplies from Iran at the cost of imperilling the Chabahar port and India’s geostrategics pivoting on land connectivity to Russia, Afghanistan and Central Asia. He will seek small-time favours such as asking Trump to upbraid Pakistan for its role in sponsoring and spreading terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir, and on this score to read the riot act to Imran Khan when the latter meets him New York. This will be hugely popular with people here. Despite this Imran will be successful in getting Trump to water down the stiff terms for the IMF loan Pakistan is seeking to tide over economic difficulties. What choice does Washington have after all considering that without Pakistan the US military retreat from Afghanistan is not possible, not if saving face is also on the agenda.

Modi will return home before Imran Khan starts retailing his sob story to the UNGA about “genocide” in Kashmir — has Islamabad consulted the dictionary when using this word? — and how global inattention could lead to a nuclear war that will engulf the globe! It is not clear how all this will occur considering the Indian government has made a purely domestic political move of revoking Articles 370 & 35A, unless Islamabad follows up by facilitating some damn fool terrorist incident that will be easily traceable to ISI and GHQ, Rawalpindi, to which India will respond. Imran has been realistic enough to concede that Pakistan will lose a conventional conflict that may ensue whereupon, he and others have threatened that Islamabad will be left with no choice other than to use nuclear weapons. Except doing so will make Pakistan extinct. Indeed, Imran’s cabinet colleague Ali Mohammad Khan, with even less restraint, has upped the rhetoric by giving the emerging situation a hard religious tint. The unification of J&K with India, he claims, is the first step in the Guzhwa-e-Hind (War for India) predicted in the Hadith. Of course, none of this will obtain in the main because the party with everything to lose — the Pakistan Army, wouldn’t want to!

But to return to our main theme, as one can readily see, between Modi’s eagerness to be satisfied with little by way of quid for India’s quo, and Jaishankar’s willingness to give away the store in return for next to nothing, the Indo-US trade deal that’s to be finalized BEFORE Trump sets foot in Houston, will likely feature an easing of restrictions on American agricultural commodities and, particularly, dairy products. Soon we may find costlier US-sourced milk, butter, cheese and other such goods pushing out Amul items and their local counterparts from our shop shelves. Poor gau-mata! And, Good-Bye to the “white revolution” that the milk cooperatives-based Amul dairy industry of Gujarat began in the country!

Next, Modi’s supposedly close friend, Trump, will demand that India hurry up and take the aged aunt of a fighter plane — the venerable all gum and no teeth F-16, off Lockheed’s hands while filling its corporate purse. And because the Modi regime is disinclined to trust small Indian companies with advanced tech capabilities, inclusive of patents and intellectual property rights to produce the 5G wherewithal and the Chinese Huawei 5G is ruled out for security reasons, Trump will pressure Delhi to buy American 5G telecom gear and systems produced by Cisco and Qualcom, making India cyber security-wise vulnerable to the US instead.

Modi’s trade deal will thus darken the already bleak prospects of the Indian farmer, the Indian dairy industry, and the indigenous technology sector, with the combat aircraft sphere in the van with the foundational Tejas LCA project. Yet, when all is lost, the PM will crow about how his ‘Make in India’ is such a roaring business success producing what? Ah, yes, a 50-year old fighter aircraft the rest of the world is discarding.

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.
This entry was posted in Afghanistan, arms exports, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Central Asia, China, civil-military relations, Culture, Cyber & Space, Decision-making, Defence Industry, domestic politics, DRDO, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, guerilla warfare, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Navy, indian policy -- Israel, Iran and West Asia, Indian Politics, Internal Security, Iran and West Asia, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, NRIs, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Pakistan nuclear forces, Relations with Russia, Russia, SAARC, society, South Asia, Strategic Forces Command, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Technology transfer, Terrorism, UN, United States, US., Weapons, West Asia. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to How Bad is the bargain in the offing? Modi & Trump

  1. Gram Massla says:

    Oh dear! What a litany of woes. Reading this article I am reminded of a friend who remarked that journalism is a waste of emotional energy, as, he sneered, journalists make a career out of complaining. Trump, despite his jaunty ride through the maze of international trade, has his head right; that there must be an overall balance of trade between nations; that no one nation can dominate commerce by cornering the market on manufactures. India has a large and growing trade with the US; indeed, it is the cornerstone of their relationship. Can Iran, through Chabahar and the Central Asian states compete? Doubtful. One should know how one’s bread is being buttered. The America media is largely against Trump on trade as, being Coastal tykes, they are heavily invested in China and its lopsided trade with the US. Trump is determined to stem the flow of this continuous leeching of dollars in trade deficits with the major trading nations the world. It stands to reason that he would advance American interests. Ditto for the Indian premier. Modi has played his cards deftly so far, balancing the Russian bear with the American eagle. Money dictates policy and Modi will acknowledge the primacy of the relationship with America by the amount of money it generates. Trump will likely push the F-16s; Modi will resist. He knows that it is not in India’s interest.

  2. devraj says:

    Sir,many american reports claim that in case of Indo-Pak nuclear war with 100 nukes of 15 kt yield then 2 crore people will die and ozone layer will be destroyed, 100 crore people will starve, erc. But when Russia did the 50 megaton Tsar bomba test, USA the 15 megaton castle bravo test and other times the super powers did multi megaton tests then no ozone layer was destroyed, no 2 crore people died and it did not wipe humanity. So, how come the use punny 15 kt weapons use will devastate humanity? Strange, please explain.

    • You are right to be skeptical about the alarmist reports about the after-effects of nuclear weapons use by India and Pakistan. Then again, the Tsar bomba, Castle Bravo and other similar tests were conducted in isolated areas and the skies above them. Sure some of the radioactivity would have carried over into adjoining areas, but there is no reported damage on humans. Battlefield use is another matter and that’s why the differences in perception about the India-Pakistan or the India-China war scenarios.

  3. Rupam says:

    I don’t get this alarm US and others harp about Nuclear war between Pak and India. Even if it happens why the hell are they poking their nose, as if any missile is going to land in US or the other countries for that matter. All of this is to keep India down and prevent its rise in power and hence Pak is used to balance it out, be it by China or US.

  4. Veeru Singh says:

    Sir,
    What about a military coup in India ? Modi is statist !!!
    Japan,Germany, South Korea ,china, Singapore – all these countries did their early industrialisation in single party or military rule. England and France had colonies in the their early days hence they could progress.Americans killed a lot of Red Indians and they had slavery . There is no country in the world that has industrialised itself with Democracy .
    In India Nehru had brought in the kind of labour laws without actually having any industry first. Modi thinks that he can make India’s PSU profitable and work with old bureaucrats(People who are responsible for ruining PSU at the first place). Any genuine reformer in India or in any democracy is actualy going to be punished by elections.

    Sirji, Do you think if, just imagine if we had a military coup in India !!!
    Then can Indian generals do what Park Chung Hee did in South Korea ? I think it is the only hope if ever India wants to catch with China
    What are your thoughts about it ?

    Thank You!!!

  5. vivek says:

    This guy has totally sold India to US. He is also campaigning for Trump.

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