Trump and Modi make big gains, but India faces a grim prospect
Through his 36-hour sojourn in India and talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday, US President Donald Trump has made huge economic and political gains for himself and America, and Modi has got full endorsement of his leadership and his anti-Muslim and repressive political agenda for India.
But India, as a country, has gained nothing in economic terms. Politically, its prospects have worsened. With Trump backing Modi, India is likely to see an intensification of the destructive communal campaign against Muslims and a sharpening of the divide vis-à-vis Pakistan and China.
India has been burdened with expensive arms purchases and its options for energy acquisition have been narrowed. Tariff concessions under the US General System of Preferences, which were withdrawn in June 2019, have not been restored, and the issue of work visas for Indian techies is still pending. American investments in India, other than in retail trade, were not discussed.
Trump lavished praise on Modi, boosting the latter’s flagging political image in India. Trump hopes to get the support of about 4 million Indo-Americans in the coming Presidential elections by praising Modi, who is an icon of the generally right-wing Indo-American community.
Modi was portrayed as an inspirational model for Indians to follow. Trump highlighted Modi’s USP that he had risen from being a humble “chai wallah” or tea vendor to becoming the Prime Minister of India by dint of hard work. Modi got excited and hugged Trump when the latter mentioned another USP of his, namely, that while being a good friend, he could also be a “tough” negotiator. This underlined Modi’s claim that he is a strong man who will not surrender India’s interests to anybody and that India is safe in his hands.
Trump’s endorsement of Modi was music to the ears of his followers in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which has been losing State-level elections and is now facing a Muslim backlash in New Delhi and many other cities across India over its government’s communally discriminating citizenship laws.
While India as such had little to celebrate, Modi and his Hindutwa ideology got a turbo boost from Trump’s visit. Trump said that he had raised the Muslim issue in his one-on-one with Modi but he seemed satisfied by Modi’s saying that he is “working hard with the Muslims”.
On the communal Citizenship Act Trump said that it is India’s “internal affair” and offered no comment. And on the on-going Hindu-Muslim clashes in Delhi, which had claimed 17 lives, Trump said that the Indian government will tackle that “individual” incident, thus giving it no importance.
The US$ 3 billion arms sales deal finalized in New Delhi on Tuesday will help Trump tell his American voters ahead of the coming Presidential election, that he has boosted employment prospects in the US through the sale.
According to available information, the defense deal gets the Indian Navy 24 MH-60R Seahawk helicopters, which are considered as the most advanced maritime helicopters in the world. Manufactured by Lockheed Martin, the MH-60R Seahawk will add to the might of the Indian Navy which and will also be beneficial to the US as it expects India to control the Indo-Ocean area against Chinese intrusions. The helicopter specializes in hunting down submarines with highly efficient sonar reconnaissance. The MH 60 multi-role Romeo Sikorsky will replace the ageing British-made King helicopters and will be delivered by Lockheed Martin within two years.
The Indian Army will get six AH-64E Apache helicopters for U$800 million. The Boeing AH-64 Apache is a twin-turbo shaft attack helicopter. It has e-mounted sensor suite for target acquisition and night vision systems. The six helicopters for the will be in addition to the 22 already ordered by the Indian Air Force (IAF). The Apaches will replace the ageing Russian MI25/35 gunships which are gradually being decommissioned.
Indigenous production of the Apache helicopter is planned. It comes as a boost to Modi's 'Make in India' campaign as it will be produced as a joint venture between Boeing and Tata Advanced Systems Ltd. As per reports, over 90 per cent of the parts used in these helicopters will be sourced by Indian suppliers. However, going by the record of Modi’s “Make in India” project so far, and the retarding pace of industrialization in India, the plan to manufacture the choppers in India seems to be unrealistic.
By not discussing with Modi, the issue of work visas for Indians, Trump has further boosted job prospects for American citizens in America. The deal making India buy oil and gas from the US instead of Iran and Venezuela will help revive the presently sluggish US economy.
On the foreign policy side, Trump got Modi to toe his line on keeping China in check in the Indo-Pacific Ocean by selling the state-of-art helicopters which will help to scour the ocean for Chinese warships and submarines. By making these choppers available, Trump expects New Delhi to shed its reserve about the “Quadrilateral” alliance with the US, Japan, and Australia. India has been wary about joining the “Quad” on the grounds that it will annoy China.
Helping Trump in selling the anti-China line are many strategy experts in Delhi who think that India will have to join the American camp to checkmate China and Pakistan as both these countries are, in their view, implacably anti-India.
However, keeping US interest in view, Trump is moving towards a rapprochement with China to help solve trade issues. He said that he does not want China to be weakened by the coronavirus epidemic as he does not want any country to be weakened because that would upset international trade and investment.
On India’s demand that the US help check Pakistan from indulging in cross-border terrorism in India, Trump avoided promising strong action and said that he would use his growing good relations with the Pakistani leader Imran Khan to see that Pakistani soil is not used to breed terrorists.
Trump treaded a carefully drawn line on Pakistan, which he needs to seal a durable peace deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan and withdraw US troops from there ahead of the US Presidential election. He said that his relations with Pakistan are improving which means that he will not put too much pressure on Pakistan on any issue till peace returns in Afghanistan and US troops are withdrawn.
While not talking about US investment in India to make Modi’s “Make in India” plan a reality, Trump invited Indian entrepreneurs to invest more in the US to generate growth and employment there. The Tatas and Mahindras already have investments in the US and they told Trump at a meeting in the US embassy that they are happy with his reforms. Trump said that he would further de-regulate conditions to spur investment. Pitching for quick Indian investments, Trump said that de-regulation will go further only if he gets another term.
Looking at these deals, India will be spending its scarce resources to pay the US arms bill and will be forced to buy American oil and gas when it could have got these from Iran and Venezuela on more favorable terms.
All in all, while the US gained economically, and Trump gained politically too from the visit, Modi gained politically and India lost both economically and politically.
The Modi regime will now be emboldened to pursue its divisive and destructive communal policies even more vigorously. India’s relations with Pakistan and China will deteriorate further with New Delhi’s flexing its muscles armed as it will be with deadly US made weapons.