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President Trump’s India Visit

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Donald Trump and his family members were here. Amongst much fanfare, a lakh plus crowd greeted him at the Motera which may have left him a bit incoherent.

What does he mean when he says, “May never be excited about a crowd again after going to India”? Presumambly, he was delighted, and such great numbers aren’t likely to be repeated elsewhere. The question is, will this delirous joy translate into something meaningful for India?

India’s relationship with the US in the 20th century was a chequered one, particularly so,at the height of the Cold War. Though our Non-aligned status should have been conclusive that we were impartial in our support, but the powers-that-be in Washington always felt that our affiliations were skewed in favour of Moscow. Jimmy Carter visted India in 1978 and for the next 22 years after that, there were no visits from any of the American Presidents till Bill Clinton in 2000, broke the hiatus.

Since then, things have significantly improved between the world’s oldest democracy and the largest one. In this, all successive Indian Prime Ministers should be credited for walking the extra mile whiledescalating tensions. This time, of course, PM Modi left nothing to chance and made it anunprecedented success – at least from an optics standpoint. 

What’s in for Real!

Amongst major concerns from the American side, trade imbalance finds frequent mention.To be sure, the trade deficit that the Americans have with us is ~24 billion dollars. The corresponding figure for China is at 346 billion dollars and we aren’t even amongst the top ten nations which have a trade deficit with the US. These concerns are largely misplaced.

Trump uses epithets such as “Traiff King” when he refers to India, or at least he did so till his visit. As far back as March 2017, he harangued the Indian Officials on high traiffs that India imposed on its imports – Harley-Davidson motorcycles being a case in point amongst many other items including dairy & agricultural products. We can certainly look at individual items and see where we can bring down import tariffs. For instance, high-end bikes may not pose a challenge to the Indian market and should be considered. It may not be as easy for agricultural products – 500 million lives are dependent and American products flooding the market may work to their detriment. 

There’s a lot that can be done to improve trade relations but I guess we will have to wait till the Presidential elections are over. Right now, the bilateral trade between the two nations stands at ~150 billion dollars and as a nation, while we work towards the avowed goal of being a 5 trillion dollar economy, we can certainly expand our trade with America, mani-fold.

The Data Magnet

Cliched as it may have come to pass, but in an age where data is the new oil, India stands tall. Given the fact that we have 1 billion mobile subscribers, our average monthly data consumption is among the highest. Clearly, the American giants such as Facebook, Apple, and Google are monetizing these vast amounts of data and working it to their advantage – so India really has a lot to offer.

The 3-billion dollar Defence deal that was signed, is a major step forward but we should not get complacent and let it slow down the Make in India initiative. If the nation aspires to be a global leader then we can’t be over-reliant on others for defence-related procurements. Though we can’t really compare ourselves to China, from an American standpoint, India does provide a counterbalance to Beijing’s dominance in the region. Perhaps that was playing on President Trump’s mind when he made a reference to “Indo-Pacific” with respect to trade, a few times during the course of his visit. If it has to go beyond the optics then America also needs to look at talent mobility in a more flexible manner – particularly for Indian tech companies that avail the H1-B route.

The Grand Namaste

Currently is Trump ‘dangling a carrot,’ with trade deals? Was the crafted fan farefor his trip worth its return?The Gujarat Government has reportedly splurgedabout ₹100 crore to make the ‘Namaste Trump’ event a success. And the Trump administration has quashed any possibility of a trade deal!

U.S. first lady Melania Trump shakes hand with children at Sarvodaya Co-Educational Senior Secondary School in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)

Is it not for real that President Trump is looking to corner the three million non-resident Indian Gujarati community votes in the upcoming US presidential elections?Was his visit a part of his subtle campaign for the election race? And for PM Modi, the visit of American president to India illustrates him as a leader with international dominance making extra sense at the time when the states of Bihar and Bengal go to elections soon. So what’s the outcome, any guess?

The coming months will be very important. People on both sides need to take this relationship forward and a lot will depend on mutual intent – whether we are truly committed to looking at a long-term relationship. We have achieved a lot but as they say – you ain’t seen nothin’yet!

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