When you have a high-profile, active businessman running for the US Presidency, questions regarding conflict of interest are inevitable. Donald Trump is, without doubt, one of the most contentious and controversial presidential candidate to fight the US elections and there is more to come.
Trying to see through the political heat and dust of US electoral politics and make sense of it, is a major dilemma being faced by many foreign governments, including India, a country where Donald Trump has already made significant investments in real estate in Pune and Gurgaon, with a promise of a lot more.
So are his investments in India going to impact US Foreign Policy?
Trump Organization has identified India as an undervalued and under invested real estate market that is ripe for investment, which can deliver significant return on investment over time. In keeping with this, Trump Organization in 2011 signed an agreement with Rohan Lifescapes to build a 65-storey ‘Trump Tower’ in Pune.
The project ran into regulatory hurdles, which had Donald Trump Jr. flying in to meet the then Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Prithviraj Chauhan. The CM did not oblige. But the project did go ahead subsequently, but with some amends.
Last month, an RTI activist raised questions regarding legality of documents relating to the purchase of land on which the twin Trump Towers have been built. Police and government officials are now investigating the accusation. Panchshil, Trump Organization’s partner in this project, has denied breaking any laws, but that is now for the investigative agencies to look into.
The question is, if Donald Trump does become the US President, how does this place the Indian government against the President’s company, if it has indeed broken local laws.
Furthermore, what will be the impact of Trump investments in India, if the Indian side is to take action against Trump’s Organization? Is the US Foreign policy going to be impacted as a result of action from the Indian side? These are pertinent and relevant questions given the intensity with which the US presidential elections are being fought.
Is the spectre of Donald Trump as US President as bad for India as is being made out by some?
One needs to understand that in the last couple of decades, Indian diaspora has increased overseas, particularly in the US, and this has raised India’s soft diplomatic power to influence foreign and domestic policy there.
The Indian community is not just affluent, but is increasingly making its presence felt in local politics at the state and federal government level, and therefore, both Republicans and Democrats have been aggressive in their outreach to this segment. Both parties realise that the ‘India’ factor will be increasingly important and that they need the support of the diaspora.
Apprehensions were raised in India when George W. Bush became the US President, but, with time, he turned out to be India’s biggest supporter when he pushed for closer strategic ties with the country, which ultimately led to the India-US Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement and relations continue to grow.
Despite his pre-election rhetoric on shutting the US down to illegal immigrants and restricting the flow of qualified legal immigrants to the US, and in bringing back manufacturing and technology jobs to the US, Donald Trump is going to realise how difficult it is to implement the same once he gets into the hot seat.
Pre-election rhetoric usually takes a back seat when the ground realities of governance set in. Remember Ronald Reagan’s famous “Read my Lips” speech on not increasing taxes? He had to backtrack and so will Donald Trump, should he become the next President.
Drastic changes in foreign policy won’t happen as easily as he would like it to be, and either ways, India will continue to sit high on the US strategic agenda, irrespective of who gets elected as President.
So what happens to the contradiction between Trump, the businessman and Trump, the president? That is something for the US to address.
Controversies relating to conflict of interest is not new to the US. We have seen questions being raised on business interests of President Bush (Snr. and Jr.) and former Vice President Dick Cheney, in defence companies like Halliburton, during Gulf Wars I and II. But they were active politicians prior to assuming office for the US government.
Donald Trump is an active businessman who is new to politics and therefore, how he segregates his business from national interests, will be closely watched both in the US and outside of it.
India need not worry too much about Donald Trump’s investments in India. If the law has been broken, let it take its own course, the US policy won’t and shouldn’t have an impact on Indian government’s actions.
On the contrary, Donald Trump’s earlier involvement in India is likely to get further strengthened, since India continues to represent the best investment opportunity over the next few years and Trump, the businessman, is shrewd enough to read the larger picture.
Trump’s push to reduce qualified overseas workers entering the US in an effort to create more local jobs, can only work upto a point. More local jobs in high technology and manufacturing means higher costs for US companies. This will only render goods and services out of the US non-competitive against countries like China and India.
If the US has to continue to remain an economic power, then it will have to invest more in R&D and continue to drive innovation, where the end product is manufactured in whichever is the cheapest location. And US is certainly not that option.
Business leaders in the US realise that and have been moving jobs outside the US over the last couple of decades. Once ground realities sink in, Donald Trump will have to backtrack on a lot of his pre-poll rhetoric and realise that to make America great once again, it will need to integrate with the world more rather than try to isolate itself. And that can’t be a bad thing for India.