Before he became the forty-fifth President of the US, Donald Trump had said that if he became the President the “Indian and Hindu community” will have the friend that they needed in the White House. He pretty much guaranteed that. The open show of faith that came from the soon-to-be President of what is regarded by many as the most powerful country in the world is quite different from how things were a few years back. It was during the Bush regime that India was treated exceptionally well. Bush always saw India’s rise as a good omen for the world, much more than a mere counterbalancing act to the influence exerted by China in the region.
US nuclear deal with India
It was a strategic reason that prompted Bush to push through with a civil nuclear deal with India – a landmark agreement in so many senses. He also did not expect anything in return. Meanwhile, Ashley Tellis from Carnegie, who is expected to become the US Envoy to India, has asked Trump to be aware of the big picture while dealing with India. According to Tellis, Bush’s opinion of India depended on a brace of factors.
The important factors
These were basically complimentary in nature. First, Bush wanted US to remain the best guarantor of security in Asia. Secondly, he wanted US to keep on making India stronger without expecting it to reciprocate it. This was because if New Delhi was able to expand its capabilities, it would only suit the bigger geopolitical objectives of the US.
In the first couple of years Barack Obama, who succeeded Bush, considered the idea of forming a super-group – a G2 if you will – with China before he decided to focus on India. However, he had to work with Manmohan Singh, whose political power had been significantly eroded.
The plight of Manmohan Singh
At that time Singh had just passed a nuclear liability law that turned out to be a disastrous one. He could not also do anything about other major policies. In the next few years, Obama always dealt with India while at the same time evaluating what it had done for him at that point of time or in the recent past.
The relations between both the countries also became somnolent to say the least. However, things became better under Modi who was an equal of Obama when it came to being transaction oriented. It was the former Chief Minister of Gujarat that brought back energy to the relationship.
How did things improve?
Under Modi, India was able to deal effectively with liability issues and fixed them as well. The first-ever commercial contract between the two countries is expected to be signed later on in 2017 but at any rate it can be said with some justification that a major bottleneck has been cleared.
In the past couple of years Modi and Obama have met on nine occasions, which is a commendable rate of engagement. A whole heap of bilateral deals have been signed and apart from that, both India and the US have also discussed a number of issues that happen to be globally important. Climate change is one such key issue.
Where does Trump fit in?
It is in such situation that the decisions of Trump – known by many as one of the finest dealmakers in the planet – will be watched with such interest. He is expected to have a first summit meeting with the Indian Prime Minister. As far as his statements go, Trump can be expected to come down hard on Jihadi Terrorism as well as China. Tellis has already asked Trump to be mindful of the strategic interests of the US at large while dealing with India.
Areas of problem?
It is expected that there are some areas that might put a dampener on the relations between India and the US under Trump. H-1B visas, investment, and trade could be some such issues. If Trump indeed follows through with his vision of America First then the information technology (IT) companies in India can be expected to be affected – at least to some degree. The number of H-1B visas is also expected to go down during Trump’s regime. On the other hand, import tariffs and US corporate taxes are expected to go down as well.
What can India do?
Experts are of the opinion that India could address the situation by signing an investment treaty with the US. Relations with India could also be affected by the lack of clarity regarding Trump’s opinion on the Af-Pak Question. This one could have a serious impact. India could also be affected by the way Trump deals with Iran and Russia, countries with whom the US has traditionally had less-than-amicable relations. India would always like relations between the former Cold War combatants to be normal but that is always easier said than done. If Trump does go through with a nuclear deal with Iran, then its relations with Europe and China could be affected as well, apart from India.