The US President Donald Trump and First Lady, Melania Trump will arrive in India on Monday for a two-day visit (February 24-25). And the visit is going to see an absolutely massive display of India’s soft power, with the global media closely covering the warmth between PM Modi and President Trump, apart from India’s display of her grandeur and glory throughout Trump’s official visit to the country.
Just like ‘Howdy Modi!’ in Houston, Texas had turned out to be a huge success, we can expect the ‘Namaste Trump!’ event at the Motera stadium in Ahmedabad to be a major success as well. A massive crowd of excited Indians is expected to welcome the American President in a grand roadshow, preparations for which are under full throttle. However, while the visit is going to be a strong display of the Modi-Trump bond and India’s soft power on the outside, there are some hardball negotiations on the inside.
On the surface, the visit appears like a show of warm ties, Besides being staunch right-wingers in the politics of their respective nations, the two leaders have certain goals that match, such as the eradication of radical Islamic terrorism and also containing China.
However, with President Trump and PM Modi involved- both strong, nationalist leaders we have continuously picked up whiffs of some rather serious negotiations all from matters of trade to matters of security and defence purchases. While ‘America First’ is the top consideration for Trump, ‘India First’ is the top consideration for PM Modi which lays the foundation for tough negotiations.
The most contentious issue is definitely going to be the trade differences between the two countries. As far as the question of a trade deal is concerned, President Trump has been pushing India really hard for a deal favourable to the American companies. New Delhi is however not yielding even by an inch.
The US has a trade deficit of 23.2 billion dollars with India, something that is a matter of concern to the US President. But, while Trump’s protectionist policy-makers have been trying to dictate terms to India with the threat of slapping tariffs, as the US did with China, the Indian negotiators, led by the Union Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal, have been relentless.
Piyush Goyal, who is at the helm of the deal negotiations, has already said that any free trade deal will be signed only based on the ‘National Interest’ of the country.
While even a limited scope trade deal has been ruled out, given how India was not yielding even an inch, while the US was continuously trying to broaden the scope of the deal, the issue is definitely going to form a part of the talks between PM Modi and President Trump.
In fact, President Trump has claimed that India has not treated the US well on the trade front, and also stressed the need to “talk a little business” with PM Modi during the two-day visit.
The US President said, “I am going to India next week, and we are talking (about) trade. They have been hitting us very hard for many years. I really like PM Modi but we gotta talk a little business. They gave us tariffs. One of the highest tariffs in the world is those offered by India,” making it clear that the trade differences will constitute a dominant part of the talks between PM Modi and President Trump.
#WATCH US President Donald Trump: I am going to India next week, and we are talking trade. They have been hitting us very hard for many years. I really like PM Modi but we gotta talk a little business. One of the highest tariffs in the world is India pic.twitter.com/ZVUcD8g7Oq
— ANI (@ANI) February 21, 2020
For Trump, ‘America First’ has been the main policy as far as trade ties are concerned. In accordance with this outlook, he renegotiated trade deals with Mexico, Canada, South Korea and more recently- China. India has, however, proved to be a tough negotiator, due to which Trump has also postponed his ambition for a trade deal with India that would have favoured the US companies. While it is ‘America first’ for Donald Trump, it is ‘India first’ for PM Modi who will also not concede an inch.
Apart from the trade deal, the imminent US-Taliban peace deal is another contentious issue. While the move is in line with Trump’s agenda to bring the men back home.
However, the US pulling out from Afghanistan is not in India’s interest. The last time the US left the region in a lurch in the 1990s, New Delhi had to face consequences with the horrifying memories of the IC-814 hijack crisis that led to the release of JeM chief, Maulana Masood Azhar. The terror outfit created by Masood Azhar has since claimed many Indian lives from the Parliament attack in 2001 to the Pulwama terror attack last year.
If the US pulls out from Afghanistan, then it would allow Pakistan to focus entirely on its other geopolitical goal- Kashmir. This will create an uncomfortable position for India.
Moreover, the vacuum created by the withdrawal of US troops might create gaps and ungoverned spaces in the wartorn country of Afghanistan that would allow terror outfits like the Haqqani network, Al Qaeda, Islamic State and even Pakistan-sponsored terror groups to operate with impunity. This will create a direct security threat for India.
Trump is being clear in his approach. The US is co-operating with India on the security front. With an MoU on Homeland Security that would focus upon aviation and immigration security, and a 2.6 billion dollars deal to buy 24 MH-60 ‘Romeo’ Seahawk helicopters on the cards, both the US and India are co-operating on this front.
The US, in return, wants New Delhi to send its troops to Afghanistan even though the Indian establishment has long maintained that no boots shall be sent to Afghanistan. Therefore, a Taliban-US peace deal and the withdrawal of American troops is also going to be one of the major talking points between PM Modi and President Trump.
President Trump is going to push hard. He has time and again reiterated that PM Modi is a good friend but India is a tough negotiator, which is actually true given that the Prime Minister keeps India’s interests at the top of his agenda and doesn’t give in easily.
It is clear that President Trump is making every possible move to push India into agreeing with him on both the fronts- trade and security. For that purpose, he might be bringing up issues, which he feels can be used for cornering New Delhi.
The idea seems to be to use issues like NRC and CAA, against which a lot of rumouring and fear-mongering has taken place in the global media, including the American media outlets. This shows the sheer intensity with which PM Modi and President Trump are going to negotiate the two major issues between India and the US.