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“Two Sides” of Trump’s India Visit!

President Donald Trump’s brief visit (Feb 24-25), his first to India, has left many questions unanswered for both sides, United States as well as India. Of course, there is no denying that Trump would not have travelled all the way to visit just one country if he did not foresee some gains. The same may be said for Indian government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi having gone overboard in making preparations to welcome him. A mega-mega show was organized for him in Modi’s home state, Gujarat. It seems, Trump loved each minute of it as in his view no other leader had been welcomed in the same manner as he had been. On his part, Modi must have been quite delighted by Trump appearing to be fairly pleased by his brief visit. But this is one side of the story.

Looking at the whole show from Trump’s own perspective, that there are “two sides” to everything, one may draw varying interpretations. He used these words while addressing a press conference (attended by this scribe) prior to heading back for Washington. As various analysts have put it, a key aim of Trump is to gain votes of Indian Americans settled in United States during the race for presidential elections. Will he or will he not, time will tell. Of course, prospects of his gaining their votes on the basis of his addressing a large crowd at “Namaste Trump” program organized at Motera Stadium (Ahmadabad, Gujarat) are fairly dim. This is the largest cricket stadium in the world. The crowd that he addressed has nothing to do with US elections. Most of them probably did not understand his English speech. But that apparently did not matter for either Trump or Modi. Both were more concerned about a packed stadium listening to Trump irrespective of whether what he said was Greek to the crowd or not.

Paradoxically, while organizing the Namaste Trump program at a cricket stadium, Modi government paid little attention to minimal importance of cricket the game in United States. Indians are cricket-crazy but the same cannot be said about Americans. Cricket does not figure in the list of popular games in United States. This aspect may have been sidelined as stadiums of games Americans are fond of just as Basket-Ball, Base-Ball and others, would not have been able to hold as large a crowd as desired by Trump and Modi.

On his part, initially Modi must have been pleased at being described by Trump as “very good friend.” But he was probably left flabbergasted when Trump used practically the same words for Prime Minister of Pakistan, a country known as India’s permanent enemy. During the press conference when questioned on Kashmir-dispute between India and Pakistan, he talked of having a “very good relationship” with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan. He reiterated the words, “very good” and then said, “I’ll do whatever I have to do, if I can do that, because my relationship with both gentlemen is so good.” Interestingly, considering that India doesn’t want external interference in what it views as its “internal” problem, his willingness to help solve Kashmir-dispute as well as his having “good friendly ties” with premiers of both countries, did not exactly symbolize hug diplomacy displayed earlier by the two. Or it would be more appropriate to say that Trump was not able to avoid Modi’s hugs, a diplomatic practice the latter is fairly adept at. Trump received several Modi-hugs during his brief visit. He was greeted on his arrival with a hug, was showered with another at Motera Stadium…

But Modi’s hug diplomacy was apparently given only some importance by Trump. It had little or no impact on the latter’s diplomatic stand towards Pakistan. It is possible, Trump deliberately laid stress on his relations with premiers of both countries. Ah, the visiting President chose not to give any diplomatic importance to internal usage of anti-Pak card by India. This refers to Indian politicians’ tendency to try their hand at their much tried and tested anti-Pak card frequently particularly during their electoral campaigns. At certain levels, it is viewed as their trump-card.

Modi probably hoped that Trump’s visit would play a great role in elevating his diplomatic image through substantial coverage accorded to it across the world. Here too, Modi’s diplomatic calculations faltered. India’s capital city was rocked by violence, with extremist elements allegedly linked with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), brutally targeting property and lives of minorities, while Trump was here. Thus headlines across the world gave importance to Trump’s visit as well as violence in Delhi. At present, Modi’s diplomatic image seems to have been severely punctured in most parts of the world. Queries continue to be raised on why did his government fail to check the violence?

Prospects of political gains in store for Trump because of his brief India-visit seem minimal. With respect to Modi, whatever he sought to gain by playing on this Trump-card stands defeated by Delhi-violence!

 

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Nilofar Suhrawardy is a senior journalist and writer with specialization in communication studies and nuclear diplomacy. Her latest book is Modi’s Victory, A Lesson for the Congress…? (2019). Others include:– Arab Spring, Not Just a Mirage! (2019), Image and Substance, Modi’s First Year in Office (2015) and Ayodhya Without the Communal Stamp, In the Name of Indian Secularism (2006).

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