Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the United States election has sent the world into a tailspin, especially Europe and American neighbours. Going by his election rhetoric – of pulling out of NATO, not honouring American trade agreements and asking Japan and other US allies to shoulder their own responsibilities – it seems inevitable that his actions, if followed, will change the shape of the world as we know it.
For India, which has steadily come closer to the US since signing the civil nuclear deal in 2005, Trump is almost a wild card.
The Republican Hindu Coalition (RHC), who are admirers of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, had been working to help Trump. So much so, that Trump even reached out to them before the elections and mouthed a version of Modi’s 2014 election tag line, "Agli bar Trump sarkar."
Indications suggest that Modi and Trump will have extremely warm personal relations, all thanks to the RHC members who helped mobilise Indian American votes for Trump.
But personal relations do not drive international affairs. There will be a vast difference between candidate Trump and President Trump. He was the star of his own campaign and did not have a battery of advisers. He ran his campaign mostly based on his own instincts. But once Trump moves into the Oval office, and takes over as President of the most powerful nation in the world, he will have a whole team of advisers to guide him. Much will depend on who these people are.
Luckily for India, there is bipartisan support for better relations between the world's oldest and largest democracy. A Hillary Clinton win would have been equally good for India though, as she is familiar with the country and would have quickly picked up the threads of the Obama administration.
As secretary of state, she did her bit for closer ties with India and in a public address in Chennai, had asked India to shoulder a greater responsibility to ensure peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region. Placing India as a counter-balance to China has been part of the American policy ever since George W Bush was the President. This policy was also followed by President Barack Obama.
"There will be continuity in US policy towards India," said Lalit Mansingh, former Indian foreign secretary. "India will not be a top priority in the first few days. It will take six months to a year for the Trump administration to deal with India. Much will also depend on his team of advisers, but generally I don’t expect much change," added Mansingh.
Former Indian Ambassador to the US, Naresh Chandra, however, had a different take: "America under Trump is likely to be protectionist in its economic policy. This will certainly hurt Indian businesses as well as that of all emerging markets," Chandra said.
"Protectionist barriers in the US, which is the world’s largest consumer, will have multiple effects on both the IT industry and pharmaceuticals, and perhaps even on the garment export business. There will also be instability in the world financial markets initially," said the former cabinet secretary.
Trump's strong emphasis on ensuring that American jobs do not go outside the country and his tough views on immigration may have an adverse effect on India and its businesses.
Most European leaders see Trump with some degree of scepticism. It is very likely that US influence among Europeans would go down temporarily. America's word would not carry much weight and many member states of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which were supporting India’s entry bid, may now side with China and the naysayers instead.
Here, it may be recalled how former President Bush and his administration had worked overtime at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to get a waiver for India.
Trump is unlikely to have this kind of clout over other world leaders. He may not be in a position to mobilise international support as well as past US presidents could, or be able to counter China’s anti-India stand in the nuclear organisations.
The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) has already issued a statement congratulating the President-elect: "CII looks forward to working with President Trump and his administration on critical issues that impact US-India trade and investment partnership. We hope that challenges relating to skilled labour, marker access for pharmaceutical products from India, and for financial services institutions and SMEs will be addressed."
Engineering Export Promotion Council (EEPC) chairman, TS Bhasin, is upbeat about the result, as he believes that the US economy will recover quickly under Trump. In a statement, he said: "Trump has stated clearly that his focus would be to spend huge funds on building the US infrastructure – like highways, airports etc. That would generate great demand for engineering exports in areas like steel, machinery and high technology domains. The Indian industry would certainly look forward to be a partner in that great endeavour of the next US President."
He said that while the engineering exports to the US had been slowing, it was in sync with the rest of the world. He added that, with the new administration, "we can expect a great recovery in the US economy, which is great news for India."
According to Chandra, the fact that Indian-American Trump supporters in the RHC had projected India as a Hindu state to a man who knows little about the country, may play as a spoiler. "Hopefully Trump does not regard India from that narrow vision of a Hindu country. That would not be good for us because relations cannot be built on a communal plank," Chandra warned.
Luckily, once he takes office, Trump would be much more circumspect – as was clear from his victory speech. Having fought an election where he referred to his rival as "crooked Hillary", he was gracious in victory and appreciated her long service to the nation.
Shalab Kumar, a leading member of the RHC, claimed that Indian-Americans across the US had voted for Trump and had helped in his victory. RHC hopes that Trump would side with India on terrorism, as he is already aware of Pakistan’s role in sponsoring cross-border attacks. They believe that since Trump is not a regular politician, he would not be inclined to be politically correct and hence would do right by India.
All this is, of course, wishful thinking. Trump's policy on the region is not known at all. Will he continue with Obama’s policy or will he take a different route, nobody seems to know.