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October 20, 2017
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The Trump Presidency: Signals for India

By: Nilova Roy Chaudhury Published: January 2017
 

donald-trump

New Delhi. The election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States left people around the world surprised, if not stunned. With no previous experience in administration and given the tenor of his campaign rhetoric, Trump’s election created an element of uncertainty, leaving stock markets tumbling, initially, and foreign offices and leaders scrambling to understand the path his policies would follow.

India’s ties with the United States have been on the upswing, particularly since the beginning of the millennium and a positive factor in the recently concluded and otherwise bitterly contested and vicious electoral campaign was the uniformly bipartisan support for continued improved relations with India.

Mr Trump had, in fact, said India and the US would be “best friends.” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was among the first to greet the President-elect, calling to congratulate Mr Trump on his election.

“We look forward to working with you closely to take India-US bilateral ties to a new height,” Mr Modi said on November 9 in a congratulatory message to the newly elected President on Twitter, hours before the two spoke on the phone.

New Delhi has been hopeful that Mr Trump would also be able, as he had forcefully reiterated throughout his campaign, to make Pakistan more accountable towards curbing terrorism emanating from that country. The President-elect’s reported phone conversation at the end of November with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif however sent more conflicting signals about what his policies could look like.

Mr Modi also sent Foreign Secretary Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, a former Indian envoy to the US, to Washington, to establish contact with Congressmen and the transition team, and to set an early date for a meeting between the two leaders as soon as possible after he assumes office on January 20, 2017.

“Foreign Secretary did visit the United States as part of regular bilateral consultations,” Vikas Swarup, India’s External Affairs Ministry spokesman said. “He met with the members of the current administration and had meetings in the US Congress. It is also my understanding that Foreign Secretary interacted with very senior levels of the Trump transition team,” Swarup said.

India formally and officially keeps away from the electoral process in other countries, although the effort is to have good relations with the contestants as is diplomatically appropriate. Now that the elections are over, policymakers in New Delhi hope that the new President will commit to protecting the US-led international order, and continue to strengthen the US-India strategic partnership.

India has traditionally always maintained a distance from the American political transition process even while trying to build relationships with an incoming administration.

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Dr Vivek Lall, a distinguished US industry leader and defence analyst, says that Mr Trump will be a dynamic leader taking into account the realities of the international order, as seen by the naked eyes of an administration and also as enunciated by the Departments of Defense and State.“And the fact that there is strong, bipartisan support in both the Houses of the US Congress as well as within the two Departments.”

The strategic communities in both Washington and New Delhi are convinced that Mr Trump will be well-disposed towards India.

Many countries, India certainly, also hope that positive relations likely to emerge between Washington and Moscow will help Russia maintain an objective distance from China. Some of Mr Trump’s campaign pronouncements, like his warmth towards Russian President Vladimir Putin, may have a significant bearing on the international order.

China’s aggressive assertions are generating global concern, and its attempt to annex South China Sea and build a strong presence in the Indian Ocean through Gwadar in Pakistan has added fuel to the fire. The US Department of State and Navy officials have periodically expressed voices of protest. Nonetheless, Beijing has warned of war if Washington attempts to disrupt its forays in the South China, of which it claims some 80 percent despite protests from all its littoral neighbours.

As for Indo-US relations, the President-elect has named Indian-origin Nikki Haley as his choice for the next US Permanent Representative at the United Nations. She is both the first woman appointed to the top level of the Trump administration, and the first person of Indian origin ever to hold a cabinet-level post in any US administration. The 44-year old lady, who is currently Governor of South Carolina, will have a crucial responsibility to try and steer the global organisation in a favourable direction (India hopes) on pressing issues, including UN reform and terrorism.

nikki helay new

“Governor Haley has a proven track record of bringing people together regardless of background or party affiliation to move critical policies forward for the betterment of her state and our country,” Trump said about Haley.

Said Vikas Swarup: “We know Governor Haley well and recognise her as a very strong and committed advocate of close India-US ties,” the spokesman said. “We warmly welcome her appointment as PR to UN,” said Swarup.

Meanwhile, New Delhi has appointed Navtej Sarna, a career diplomat, as its new man in Washington. Sarna arrived in the US a month before the Trump inauguration and is getting acquainted with members of the new administration.

A report in the Washington Post has named Ashley Tellis as a possible successor. Tellis is well connected with the Indian strategic community, defence and foreign affairs included, and has been a regular face at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), an autonomous think tank funded by the Ministry of Defence (MoD). A Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment, Tellis is a known supporter of strong partnership between the US and Indian defence industry.

The US Ambassador in New Delhi, Richard Verma, who was appointed by President Obama, will leave the Indian capital before Mr Trump is sworn in.

The US India relationship has been on an upward trajectory from President (George W) Bush to (Barack) Obama from PM (Manmohan) Singh to PM Modi. I see that trajectory continuing with the upcoming Trump administration,” Sanjay Puri, Chairman of the influential Washington-based US India Political Action Committee (USINPAC), told India Strategic.

“This is due to shared interests, values and opportunities. PM Modi has made this is a key relationship for India politically, economically and strategically,” Puri said. “USINPAC has had experience in working with Vice President Pence for quite some time and he has had a very good perspective about the US India relationship and Indian Americans,” he said.

USINPAC has supported candidates for local, state and federal office and encourages political participation by the Indian- American community, and reacted with pride to the appointment of Haley (born Nimrata ‘Nikki’ Randhawa) and of Seema Verma, the founder and CEO of a health policy consulting firm, as the new Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Verma will help reshape the health services program in the US, a key Trump objective.

“The Asian-American Gala, as part of President Trump’s Inaugural, symbolises the success achieved by Indian and Asian Americans,” observed Vivek Lall, who has been a leading US corporate figure working with many governments globally.

“Under Trump’s Presidency, we can foresee a stronger America with enhanced substantial partnerships in trade and active diplomacy across the globe,” he said, asserting that US-India cooperation will further deepen on multiple fronts during the incoming administration.

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