This spells trouble

A lot of things were wrong, or went wrong, with the Houston-do starring Narendra Modi and Donald Trump. Not that anyone here noticed them, everybody being too busy singing hosannas for the budding Trump-Modi camaraderie on display.

Let’s start with the pic above: See Trump’s condescending, proprietory, hand on Modi’s shoulder? No self-respecting leader — unless he heads a rank small and inconsequential country and hence has no choice — would allow a big power leader to show him up in an obvious sort of way as junior partner (or, should that be pardner in Texan lingo?).

It reminds me of the US-Philippine war (1899-1902) that the US waged against the freedom movement led by Emilio Aguinaldo after Spain ceded that Asian colony to America vide the 1898 Treaty of Paris. That military campaign was justified by Washington as “saving our little brown brother” and in terms of a programme of “benevolent assimilation” in the American sphere. The publicity photos and posters distributed by the US military from its headquarters, in Manila and outlying areas, in fact featured two standing figures — one a big, white, smiling American with a hand on the shoulder of the smaller brown befuddled Filipino.

True, Modi, far from befuddled, rejoiced in the Trumpian display of insulting physical familiarity, something he brought on himself with his prior record of trademark hugs and embraces. In his first term, it startled foreign leaders but are now shrugged off by them as hazards of their trade. He went so far to curry favour with Trump as to offer his own successful election campaign slogan to suit the US President in his upcoming re-election campaign — ab ki baar Trump sarkar! It is not for nothing that Trump at this venue called Modi “America’s most devoted and loyal friend”.

That apart, Modi, in a small way, sought to influence American people to vote Trump. With the Impeachment proceedings underway against Trump in the US Congress and the issue of Russia assisting Trump in the 2016 elections with offensive cyber strategy of fake news that hurt Hillary Clinton’s chances, being investigated threadbare, Modi’s enthusiasm in pitching Trump to US voters could come in for some scrutiny. Especially because a couple of Democratic Party presidential contenders, including Bernie Sanders, have already hit out at India’s treatment of Kashmiris, etc.

Even if no Congressman takes notice of Modi’s attempts at interference in the internal affairs of the US, the fact that such a thing happened formally and openly could be a precedent for legitimating such influence peddling by foreign powers in Indian elections. Is it too much of a stretch to see a re-elected Trump mosey over to India on a state visit to return the favour and try and secure a 3rd term for Modi in 2024? Indeed, what was until now covert activity — the US routinely provided election funds to Right-thinking politicians while Moscow filled the Indian Communist parties’ coffers and, emerged as a principal funder of Indira Gandhi’s Congress party in the early 1970s. But such help was usually hush-hush except hereafter foreign entities will feel less inhibited in this regard. It is a ripple effect Modi did not ponder before becoming a carnival barker for Trump in Houston.

All this would be fine if the entire Houston tamasha was perceived as a bit of escapist political theatre and dismissed as so much diplomatic dross. Except, Modi and his government seems inclined to read more into the optics of the event than is warranted. The truth is all the posing, sweet talking and hand-in-hand “victory” lapping by Trump joining with Modi, comprised just a contingent ploy by Trump to be nice to the foreign leader he was sharing the moment with. However, Modi, Jaishankar & Company deliberately or otherwise misread and misrepresented this whole affair.

Thus, the Modi government’s joyous take on Trump’s voicing his antipathy towards “radical Islamic terrorism” as an endorsement of Modi’s Kashmir related-actions was falsified soon enough. When Trump was asked whether he sided with India against Pakistan when he talked of Islamic terrorism he stated that he was referring to Iran and, disingenuously, that that was the country he thought Modi was alluding to as well!!

Now switch over to Trump’s meeting Imran in New York yesterday. Sure, Imran didn’t get much traction from his nonsensical nuclear war-mongering spiel. It afforded the US president an opportunity to publicly revive his offer of mediation on Kashmir; but he failed to bring up the matter of Islamic terrorism because, well, Islamabad holds the Afghanistan card.

So, it doesn’t seem Modi got more out of Trump than Imran did with lot less effort and and near zero expenditure of money (versus millions of albeit NRI dollars for staging the show at the NRG Stadium in Houston). But there was a difference. Modi gave a lot to receive very little from Trump. For instance, as anticipated in my previous blog he has compromised on allowing US agricultural commodities to be sold in the Indian market to the detriment of the beleaguered Indian farmer. There may even be a provision permitting the imports into India of dairy items at the cost to the country’s dairy industry. And, of course, Delhi will be hard put to resist the American push the antiquated F-16 under the guise of transferring military technology and, God alone knows, what other dated technologies at the expense of the infant indigenous defence industry.

Is this fair exchange — Trump’s jollying Modi around for the emptying of the Indian treasury, and hollowing of Indian agricultural and industrial economy?

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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14 Responses to This spells trouble

  1. Edelbert Badwar says:

    Better than the Rajiv US visit when he had nothing to impress the Americans other than his sunglasses.I feel ashamed of those days.

    • Senthil Kumar B says:

      It was Rajiv who sowed seeds of US-India and US-China rapport…. He went to US to get the Cray super computer which effort was in vain leading eventually to the establishment of CDAC.

  2. Arya Mehr says:

    Modi may have inadvertently thrown his people in the line of White Nationalist anger. These visuals will not go down well with hard-line nativist circles where patience is running out. Hitherto, Indian diaspora had wisely refrained from overtly flexing its political muscle. The change in the status quo may have serious political repercussions.

    There will be life after Trump. It was expected that the Prime Minister of the ‘largest democracy’ would have appreciated this basic diplomatic fact.

  3. Pratap AR says:

    Sir
    It looks that trade deal has not been signed.Modi and the negotiators have stood their ground.

  4. Phani Kumar says:

    How one sided? You did not put picture where PM Modi raised Trump’s hand and made him walk with lofted hands. You took a picture of your convenience and wrote your typical Modi bash.

  5. Dhruv says:

    The strategy of “keep pissing into the tent” has run its course. Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing again and again, but expecting different results each time”.

    I like to read most of what you write, but now everything is beginning to sound like an analyst version of Yashwant Sinha,who has a problem with most GOI moves, only for the sake of having a problem.

    Got to get out of cold war mindset
    that shackled the Indian economy and its people to whats derisively referred to as the ‘Hindu rate of growt ‘ for well nigh 45 yrs. All this while the post war economies of Germany, Japan, South Korea,ASEAN and even Pakistan was rising at a fair clip.

    In fact each Indian remained poorer than the average Pakistani till about 8/10 yrs back, when India’s per capita income surpassed Pakistan’s,this after sustained economic reforms for almost 20 yrs.

    So we got to be nimble in foreign and economic policies and do whats right for the Indian people in 2019 ,rather than following paths that took us nowhere for years and years.

    We’re never going to get into a formal alliance with the USA, but we will surely need the sinews of a super power in the years ahead. Nor are we going to give the Americans a carte blanche for each and every move they make, even the Chinese used American investment to reach where they’ve economically. So how are we wrong in choosing to do the same?

    Holding governments feet to the fire is ok, but nit picking its every move makes an analyst sound like a politician,and thats a sad thing to behold.

    I write this as a well wisher,hope its accepted in the right spirit.

    • It is not cold war mindset to ask that India appreciate and wield its ample leverages,and to point out that this is not being done. Moreover, balancing power does not require India to close in with the US. And that, this is too big a country to be treated as a junior partner by any power.

      • Vishnugupt says:

        @Prof. Karnad

        I thoroughly disagree to your starting paragraph.

        That one PIC is not the defining moment of the Howdy Modi event. You have perhaps taken a screengrab of their victory lap to get this PIC to drive your point home.

        But the most famous pic is where Modi is dragging the clearly overwhelmed Trump(remember his obsession with large crowd) by hold his hand high in the air.

        But we can debate what India got out of this, but there is no denial that Modi was the star of the show.

        Remember Modi’s quote? “Mr President let me introduce you to my family”

        This right there is the Modi leveraging India American’s voting power. Like no Indian PM ever dreamt of.

        Now this is some constructive vote bank politics.

      • Recall the “USA, USA” chant the gathered Indian-origin Americans spontaneously started when Trump came on to the stage? All NRIs know which side of the bread is buttered. Under the circumstances, there’s only so much leverage an Indian PM can exercise with the occupant of the moment at the White House.

    • Avatar says:

      IN the whole decade of 80s when usa was using China against russia it was usa and her stooge inside India who were forcing INDIAN govt.to be very friendly to China and be distant to Russia; So much so that they forced rajiv Gandhi to accept Tibet as part of China in autumn 1988**
      INCIDENTLY 80S WAS also time of British and americans creating Taliban Muslim terrorists and of funding and sheltering khalistani terrorists in the Anglo World. At that time those traitor indians wanted India to be freindly to usa and to china and be indifferent to Russia!
      There was a chairman of Ficci who was also owner of ranbaxy,some sikh who was daily telling that India should be freindly to china and not russia -all because americans wanted that way.
      .americans wanted that way !.Then in 90s he was telling india to demand goods in hard currency from Russia because of rouble devaluation.That sardar was also pushing for less military expenditure in india.You can check that in many papers and weekly journals of mid 80s about that.Such are the so called coolie elites of India -a lackey breed of lowest kind.
      During the 1971 War, China didn’t even move a truck despite US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s repeated requests to launch some kind of attack on India. The Chinese sat on the sidelines mutely watching India humiliate their client.Even during the Kargil war when India was hammering the pakistanis there was not a peep out of Biejing.

  6. andy says:

    With the kind of opposition in the IAF to the F16 being flown in Indian colors,New Delhi will have a hard time ramming that particular aircraft down their throats. The political heat generated by purchasing a fighter unwanted by the force will give them pause.

    One envisages 36 more Rafale being purchased from France. The out going IAF chief recently called it a Mercedes among fighters,and the incoming air chiefs initials are emblazoned on the made for India Rafales.

    SAAB recently pulled out of the 6 Submarine tender citing lacuna in the strategic partnership model,so the Grippen might suffer the same fate.

    That leaves only the FA18 Super Hornet and the Rafale in the race for making upwards of 100 fighters in India,with the Rafale on the inside track in the race. The Russians offering also don’t stand much of a chance,given the IAF top brass fetish for western fighters.

    Both these aircraft could also be in the race for 57 naval versions to form the airwing of the IAC..

  7. Avatar says:

    Anglosaxons will never enrich and empower 1.2 billion brown foreigners. They see India only as a market and as cheap slave labour, they always did and always will.

    India has only one path to prosperity and status, that is to disconnect from any global allegiances and to make peace with its neighbours – especially Pakistan and China – and then follow its own path in its own interests.

    As long as India tries to court favour with others it will be treated as it is – a third world bit player and mere chess piece in the global game.
                          Are the anglophile elites of India even aware of the Malthusian motive behind the multimillion starving to death during and after Britain’s Victorian epoch? Supposedly they are fed with history from court historians, who see no evil intent on their own side.
    India, have some self-respect, look and learn how

    has surpassed you, and see how a real mega-nation and culture regained its standing in the world. Ruling a quater of humanity gives you the right to say ‘no’ to anyone, including the USA.

    French minister on British organizing a war in Syria in 2009!

  8. Avatar says:

    During the 1971 War, China didn’t even move a truck despite US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s repeated requests to launch some kind of attack on India. The Chinese sat on the sidelines mutely watching India humiliate their client.Even during the Kargil war when India was hammering the pakistanis there was not a peep out of Biejing.

  9. Avatar says:

    NRIs are new coolie class export from India.

    NRI”
    2/7/2014.
    Report is that a few NRI organisations in the USA are lobbying for our prime minister sri  Narendra modi to be invited by the congress to address the joint session. What a disgusting act of the NRIs. First they bootlick the Americans and then they undermine the Indian Pm by supposedly speaking on his behalf –may be  PM Modi does not want to be felicitated by those who made all attempts to see that he is not even elected let alone invited to America.
    These stupid NRIs are basically techies who think that science subjects have made them understand the deep politics. They do not realise that to confront the real enemy of India we must align with china and Russia that is why America wants to create rift amongst these three nations. So NRIs are doing knowingly or unknowingly a great disservice to India by putting Modi in the heynas’ den.
    It is not the first time that NRIs  have attempted to sabotage the real interests of India-in fact the traitor mmsingh boasted that his govt. spent a few millions of dollars on lobbying the congress (through NRIs and others) to make it possible that the Indo-us  nuke deal goes through-in other words the gaddar mmsingh was bribing the NRIs and American congress to let pass a nuke deal which had been  sponsored by the Americans and which was injurious to India !
    This is what the Americans think of stupid Indians !
    What is it with NRIs in America who bend down and act as coolies to the anglos ?
    India does not need NRIs rather NRIs need India that is why they should  mind their own business.
    Chinese diaspora was much stronger and richer than NRIs but china got status only after 1964 when it went nuclear and a world power militarily. Jews diaspora was much richer and influential than Indians but only after victory in war of  six day war of 1967 did the Israelis  get more status and recognition  and so did the Jews.

    At the international conference on climate change in Copenhagen in December 2009, US President Barack Obama forced himself into a room where the then Chinese premier Wen Jiabao was holding a secret meeting with the then Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other leaders.
    Giving a blow by blow account of the incident, of which she was part as the then secretary of state, Hillary Clinton in her memoirs ‘Hard Choices’ writes that the purpose of China was to isolate the United States by bringing together countries like India, Brazil and South Africa on its side.

    But Obama’s determination and presence of mind thwarted such a move, she writes.
    IMO  only MMS himself must’ve leaked the venue of the meeting .
    Once that world bank low functionary mmsingh was a NRI too.!

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