Trump India visit makes good optics

By Vijay Badhwar

Prime Minister Modi must be banking on second term election of US President Trump to invest so much goodwill on the family’s recent one-and-a-half-day visit to his (Modi’s) home state Ahmedabad, the monument of love -Taj Mahal – and lastly, capital Delhi.

The optics of Air Force One landing in Ahmedabad and the motorcade passing through people-lined streets on way to Sabarmati Ashram was impressive. Namastay Trump also included the usual backdrop of cultural display of traditional costumes and pitchers balanced on heads dances.

Mr Trump was, of course, pleased – mightily pleased – as he talked of the big crowds lining the roads to Motera Stadium where he was welcomed by a capacity crowd of 110,000 in a public reception, talked about his close friendship with the Indian PM, evoked the richness of Indian society and cited the popular names, Swami Vivekananda, Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli.

Mr Trump talked big on doing business with India, defence deals and co-operation in space technology, but very little materialised the next day in meeting at Hyderabad House in New Delhi after meeting the Indian President Ram Nath Kovind followed by an impressive Guard-of-Honour at Rashtrapati Bhavan.

The President acknowledged the tough negotiating Indian PM and upended the region as India-Pacific rather than Asia-Pacific, obliquely sidelining China, but it only made a good script. The businessman President is not happy about the 25 billion trade deficit and is not content with changing India’s status as a ”˜Developed’ nation rather than a ”˜Developing’ nation which will increase tariffs on Indian imports.

Missing at the state reception in the evening were Congress president Sonia Gandhi who was not invited and, not attending in protest, Congress leaders including former prime minister Manmohan Singh. Surprising, though, was that even the Capital Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal did not make the invitees’ list which appeared petty and parochial.

Simultaneously with the reception, East Delhi was engulfed in communal riots, partly roused by small-minded politics as an extension to the Shaheen Bagh sit-in since 15 December last year. Although Section 144 was imposed, to last count the riots took 37 lives.

But the US President would not buy in to comment on India’s politics, repeatedly deflecting the questions from the media on Article 370 or the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and on religious harmony in India, showing confidence in PM Modi and praising the tolerance of all religions in India, only once hurriedly offering to mediate in Kashmir but quickly qualifying his statement with bouquets for PM Modi and his friendship with Pakistan’s PM Imran Khan.

The President’s visit may not immediately bring tangible benefits to India but it will help soften international opinion on India’s hardening profile that was earlier exemplary as harbinger of cultural diversity and tolerance, a melting pot of a multitude of world religions and cultures.

Mr Trump will, however, benefit in the November elections from closer ties with Mr Modi. Although the Republicans get only a minor share of votes from the four million-strong Indian Diaspora in the US (Approx. 17%), in crucial states even a small movement of Indian votes towards him may be a deciding factor in his re-election.

But why Ahmedabad/Gujrat, like for any other foreign dignitary’s reception in the past? I wonder!



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