Narendra Modi US visit: PM's trip should be dubbed get-to-know-you meet with mercurial Donald Trump

India is in a sweet spot at the moment. As the world attempts to come to grips with an unpredictable America under President Donald Trump, the options for India have opened up considerably. If Delhi plays its cards right, it can fulfill its long held ambition of playing a much more active role in the world stage.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi heads to the US for his 26 June meeting with Trump brimming with confidence after his successful tour of Europe. Modi is well aware that Europe’s two most important powers, Germany and France, are keen to enlist India’s support on key global issues like climate change. India’s self assurance stems from the fact that the US is not the only egg in India’s basket. If Trump proves difficult, Delhi can fall back on others in the gradually emerging multipolar world.

File image of Narendra Modi and Donald Trump.

File image of Narendra Modi and Donald Trump.

Yet it is no doubt, that ties with the US are of utmost importance. India-US ties have been gathering momentum, ever since the landmark civil nuclear agreement signed by the UPA government in 2008. Every leader of both India and the US have been building blocks to take the relationship forward. Former president Barack Obama and Modi did so and now it is time to engage with Trump. But the new American president, with no previous experience of public life, is an unknown quantity in both politics and diplomacy. What’s more he can send off nasty tweets after talks with world leaders. As Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel found out once Trump returned from his Europe visit.

The first meeting between Modi and Trump, therefore, assumes considerable significance. The assumption is that the two unconventional politicians would hit it off well. Modi, an astute man, would go well prepared for the meeting. Analysts believe, with Trump, personal equations would be an important factor. After all after going hammer and tongs at China during the election campaign, much of the animosity faded after President Xi Jinping’s visit to the US.

"India should keep expectations moderate during this first meeting," said former ambassador to the US, Naresh Chandra, who knows the American system well. "Trump is on a sharp learning curve. It is important for Modi to get him to listen to facts. His mind is cluttered with preconceived notions fed to him by uninformed supporters. Whether he believes them or not is irrelevant but he cleverly echoes the sentiments of his support base. Modi should dispel the fears of job losses from the Indian IT sector. He must make him understand that Indian companies are also creating jobs in the US. Trump’s belief that India gets billions of dollars for signing the Paris Agreement have to be dispelled once and for all,’’ said the former ambassador to US.

"Jihadi terror is a good starting point for Modi to start his conversation with the US president. Trump is attuned to this. He can also gently rub home the point of China’s growing strategic reach in Asia,’’ added Chandra. The former bureaucrat said that one of India’s main concerns in the neighbourhood is the growing closeness between China and Pakistan. Now with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and the Gwadar port likely to become a future naval base for China, India’s strategic periphery is a cause for worry. Modi will have to put this across to Trump gently.

The US president is quick to take sides. In the conflict between Shias and Sunnis, Trump is supporting Saudi Arabia against Qatar. Pakistan, is now firmly on the Saudi camp, with former army chief Raheel Sharif now commanding Islamic troops in Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen.

Pakistan will now be fully backed by Saudi Arabia and Trump will perhaps move with some caution against Pakistan. Modi is certain to talk of terror emanating from Pakistan to Trump. Since the Uri attacks, Modi has spoken about this in all his meetings with world leaders.

It is best for India not to build domestic expectations for this first meeting between the two leaders. Indian officials emphasise that both Republicans and Democrats are keen on improving and taking forward the already substantial co-operation between the two countries. Many dub the Washington trip as a getting to know each other meet for Modi and Trump.

But indications from the Sean Spicer news conference, when Washington and Delhi simultaneously announced the upcoming visit is that Trump is as keen to keep the cooperation going with India. This, of course, could be Spicer’s way of diverting attention of assembled reporters from vexing questions on the Russia investigations and the attorney-general’s decision to testify.

Spicer said that the president was looking forward to discussing ways to strengthen ties between India and the US and advancing common priorities. He spelled these out as: "Fighting terror and promoting economic growth and reforms and expanding security co-operation in the Indo-Pacific region."

But much will depend on the personal chemistry between Modi and the mercurial US president.

Updated Date: Jun 14, 2017 21:39 PM

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