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What nobody knows about the Modi-Trump summit

What will Trump say to the media after the Modi meeting?

Will chief strategist Stephen Bannon coach Trump before the summit sit-down?

With Trump’s pocket phone within reach, what Trump’s super thumb can do is again anybody’s guess.

In the Washington D.C. policy circuit, hope floats that the last person who speaks to Trump before a big meeting or speech matters more than any other courtier who may have had the President’s ear say, even five minutes earlier. Even if that person is merely clever, it could be decisive for the next Trump soundbite, tweet ( or policy?). But all this is simply conjecture, the majority of those who are in for the wild ride on the Trump train have by and large bought in to the rituals of flattery, the stories that do find their way out of the White House are courtesy leaky vessels in the administration, there is very little intelligence coming out from real conversations with policy makers, what’s informing the news cycle is those who have brought palace intrigue out on to the public square - like Comey and now others who will likely follow.

Will Steve Bannon chat up Trump before #ModiTrump summit? / Reuters

Will Steve Bannon chat up Trump before #ModiTrump summit? / Reuters

What if Trump decides to say something suddenly negative on some issue ( an H1B ouchie? ) that is sure to pump up his base, despite having a nice one-on-one chat with Modi?

Remember the “they’re stealing our jobs like candy” comment from Trump the night before the election?

These unpredictale media moments are the crucial blind spots ahead of the upcoming #ModiTrump summit.

Most likely, there won’t be a press gaggle because it’s a first time meeting but even if there is, will they take questions?

Even if they take questions, the American media is too caught up with Comey and Mueller to get into bilateral relations and if they do, it may be a scrap of red meat about Pakistan or H1B — a sure Page 1.

“Trump says a lot of things in public, but when they’re sitting one on one, what will he say to Modi? That’s the important thing. India would like to get a signal from him on how he looks at India, only then can Modi take next steps”, says Dr. Sanjaya Baru, media adviser to former Indian PM Manmohan Singh.

So, will there be notetaker(s) at the meeting?


Baru gives the example of the Manmohan Singh - Musharraf meeting in Havana where there wasn’t a single notetaker. “They came out of the meeting and within an hour or two after the meeting, all the notes are quicky put together as a matter of record. If it’s a one on one meeting, it’s not necessary that there should be anybody else,” says Baru.

But none of this will unsettle the Indian Prime Minister, he clarifies.

“Modi is a quintessential politician. He is very, very different from a lot of the others. The last PM we had who was a hardcore politician was Narasimha Rao. In the US, think of Bill Clinton for example. At his peak, he oozed politics from every pore. They know how to deal with anybody in the world. In that sense Modi has an advantage over Trump who at his core is still about business.”

So, what’s the catch then?

In Trump’s mind, if he thinks of the the money China is pumping in, about Jack Ma’s promise etc and has an asking rate based on that metric, then its a problem.

So, if India does not answer the “what’s in it for me” lollipop that Trump is said to relish, then what’s the other way?

Democracy talk won’t work with Trump the way it did with say, Obama.

Trump’s latest Cabinet meeting live telecast offers further proof of what he loves - ritualised flattery.

“Where do I stand in your scheme of things? That’s what we need to know. Once that is clear, Modi can decide whether he wants to go say hello to Xi or give Putin a bear hug,” says Baru.

“It’s a 1991 moment for us”, he says comparing it with the time of the Soviet Union collapse when PV Narasimha Rao found himself dealing with a completely new world.

“In a sense, the same thing is happening. With Trump, the whole equation that was built with George Bush and Obama is under question. If Trump gives us a reassurance that he’s on board, it’s fine but if he insists that this is a new America, then we have to have to revert to our backup plan which is why Modi has been travelling so much", says Baru.

So, what’s a good meeting then, given all this?

If Trump says we should be part of APAC, you’re an important defence partner, I’m glad that our Navy is working together, that’s good enough. But if he says you guys are taking away our jobs, H1B etc, that won’t work is what practically every Indo-US maven is saying.

Updated Date: Jun 17, 2017 01:45 AM

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