Event ReportsPublished on Jul 18, 2017
Modi-Trump meeting helped build on bilateral sync

India’s foreign policy is getting increasingly shaped largely by national and international interests, and not just by security angle alone. And, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to the US and his maiden meeting with President Donald Trump too fell into this pattern, as the H1B visa issues and others of the kind did not even find a mention in their talks, veteran journalist Dr Sridhar Krishnaswami, at present, Head, Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, S R M University, said.

Initiating a discussion on ‘Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Trump’s America’ at an interaction at Observer Research Foundation, Chennai, on July 1, Dr Krishnaswami, a former US Correspondent of The Hindu, attributed this changing Indian approach to the large size of the Indian market and the size of its economy, displacing Japan recently to occupy the third position.

Dr. Krishnaswami said the Prime Minister’s White House agenda centred on three Indian perspectives, namely, global, Asia-Pacific, and South Asia-China. He also brought to notice the greater attention being given for the Prime Minister to the meet of the leaders of the host-nation so as to establish a personal rapport and only to iron out issues that could not be sorted out at the diplomatic and bureaucratic levels.

Considering these factors, Dr Krishnaswami said it was a wise decision for PM Modi to meet President Trump early on, as there is a lot of sync between India and the US on issues of security, trade and other sectors, too. He pointed out that the Trump administration was equally keen to move forward on its ties with India, which had blossomed under his predecessors.

He attributed the two major developments -- the clearance of the sale of MQ-9B Guardian UAVs and decision by Lockheed Martin to manufacture the F-16 Block 70 fighters in collaboration with TATA Advanced systems Ltd in India -- to the American intent to increase bilateral cooperation and collaboration. However, these decisions were taken and announced before the two leaders met.

‘Distracted’ at best 

The White House under President Trump, Dr. Krishnaswami remarked, was distracted at best. Facing multiple accusations for his controversial tweets and ill-informed remarks, President Trump has been facing a lot of flaks and political battles since he took over the reins in January.

Zeroing in on the issues that were keeping the Trump administration busy, Dr. Krishnaswami noted that recent developments such as an investigation into the role of Russia in last year’s American residential elections and the appointment of Robert Mueller as Special Counsel to investigate the issues concerned  keeping Trump uneasy and without much room for manoeuvring.

Dr Krishnaswami also drew parallels between the Trump presidency and that of President Richard Nixon. While there was a lot of scope to draw parallels between the two, the likelihood of Trump being impeached was fairly low. It boiled down to the differences in the personalities of the two Presidents. While Nixon was increasingly aware of the ground realities and decided to resign from office before he could be impeached, Trump would not go away in this manner. He opined that despite increasing loss of political support, Trump would stay back and fight his political battles from within the office as that was his style of functioning.

H1B visas and wages

Dr. Krishnaswami said that in relations with India, Trump functioned more like a businessman rather than what is usually expected from a head of state. He cited the H1B issue, for instance, and pointed out how the Trump administration raised the minimum mandatory wages for a H1B worker as equivalent to the pay of an American. This, the speaker opined that, undercut the low-cost benefits being enjoyed by Indian IT majors, in fixing their employees’ wages in the US. This is Trump’s way of addressing the the problem of loss of American jobs to migrant Indian workers.

On the challenges that President Trump faces, Dr Krishnaswami said that any move by his administration to influence the special counsel on the ‘Russian links’ of his team-members, using his Executive powers would have a telling effect on the rest of his tenure. He recalled how there has been a bipartisan cooperation in Congress against Executive interference and violations, or even highly-placed officials lying under oath. This alone cost Nixon his presidency, he recalled.

Another major challenge that Trump needs to address, Dr. Krishnaswami noted, is his inconsistency on foreign decisions. While the State Department looked at foreign policy issues from a political and diplomatic angle, the Pentagon tended approach these issues from a strategic perspective. The White House may have a different view, as was seen recently during the ‘Qatar crisis’. The task ahead for Trump would be to find middle ground between these spheres of influence and go forward on his decisions, he added.

This report was prepared by Gururag Kalanidhi, Associate, Observer Research Foundation, Chennai

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