May 27, 2018, 11:13 pm IST
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Modi’s Second Coming

Modi’s Second Coming

S. Sivadas , Jun 25, 2017

When the Indian Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, arrived in Washington after a halt at Lisbon, where he was treated to a Gujarati lunch at the Portuguese Prime Minister’s residence, he is the first visiting dignitary the US President receives formally at the White House. Apart from these symbolic gestures what would be the takeaway from this two-day visit Mr. Modi has embarked upon?
Diplomatic circles are circumspect and do not want to paint a rosy picture not because there are any contentious issues, but after the initial enthusiasm both incumbents in high places have now settled down to do some serious business.
For Mr. Modi this time there would be no Madison Avenue-type spectacular shows and expressions of expatriate solidarity or masked cheerleaders, though there is a scheduled community reception planned at MCLean in Virginia which is the pricy address in the richest neck of the woods around the capital.
There is also speculation on how much topics the two can cover, in the course of a dinner; drones, fighter planes, HB1 visas, and, as always the perennial issue of Pakistan.
Both leaders are on a high of sorts; Mr. Trump has just won the Georgia election which was a great achievement for the Republicans. Mr. Trump has also, in an unprecedented gesture, been quick to congratulate Mr. Modi on his spectacular victory in the Uttar Pradesh elections.
Mr. Modi has a packed schedule. In Washington he would be meeting top-ranking CEOs through various slots during the whole day. Among these are Apple's Mr. Tim Cook, Walmart's Mr. Doug McMillon, Caterpillar's Mr. Jim Umpleby, Google's Mr. Sundar Pichai and Microsoft's Mr. Satya Nadella, the last two Indians. With these companies being the richest in the country, that is saying a lot.
With the US bent upon taking the policy of ‘America First’ too seriously, this may well have a cascading effect. This policy may push other countries also to adopt a similar strategy. Mr. Modi had already kicked off the ‘Make in India’ campaign and is bound to harp on this at the meeting of the CEOs. The themes of both may be different but the thrust is more or less the same, more jobs for the local people.
There are reports of the clearing of the sale of 22 Guardian drones by the US to India , worth 2 million dollars, in a communication that was sent to the Prime Minister’s office by the State Department.
This past week a Tata Group company, Tata Advanced Systems, had signed a deal with the American aircraft maker Lockeeed Martin. Such major defense deals and the prospects of the US becoming the strongest contender for the defense deals have also been announced by the US Defense Department. When the two-day visit concludes there would be much forward movement in the matter of defense deals, thus giving a befitting answer to the Team Trump’s ‘What is in it for us’ query.
On the question of the contentious H1B visas, with Mr. Trump promising to give to Americans the jobs which others have taken away, Mr. Modi is cannot be ruled out to come up with a master stroke. He might even deliver an ultimatum, H1B visas or the aforementioned checklist is out.
Apart from these hard business deals both governments would also be comparing notes on diplomatic strategy and commonality of interests. The Track II pundits have been harping on the ‘uncertainties’ in their relationship with the new US establishment. This was not the case with the previous Barrack Obama regime which had a better chemistry on defense co-operation and clean energy, high-profile military exercises and a maritime cooperation in the Indian Ocean region and their approach to China. Some in the establishment were pessimistic and had stressed on the ‘Goldilocks soup of relationship in a good place, just the right temperature, neither hot not cold.’ That was during the high noon of the Obama regime. But there are still some contentious issues.
On the climate change the two countries have divergent views and the US stand on the Paris accord is at divergence with that of India. On the stand toward China’s One Belt One Road also the stands of both countries are dissimilar. Being proximate neighbor India has many misgivings which the Americans do not share. And, finally, regarding Pakistan also the US position is not quite in with tune with that of India.
With China’s growing clout in the Indian Ocean region and the apprehensions that this is giving rise to tensions and instability in the neighborhood, the US position seems ambivalent. The moves towards a cooperative network of like-minded democracies like Japan, South Korea and India that is so necessary for stability and economic in the region, the US posture is something that is puzzling. They seem to be still caught up in the cold war mode with strategic ties with Pakistan. Despite the many drawbacks the Trump administration has ‘inherited a relationship of strategic convergence in a state of good health,’ according to a veteran diplomat.
The murmurs of dissent in the US on climate change and quotas for skilled IT workers notwithstanding, the relations have had been on an even keel. The pragmatism that Mr. Trunp and Mr. Modi might bring to the negotiating table augurs well for the success of the relationship and this visit. Despite their differences, like that of their countries, Mr. Trump and Mr. Modi share something in common. Both are hardnosed business leaders and not necessarily political animals, and both have had to face a hostile press constantly and sniping from the elite of the Harvard School. This might be a spur and eventually vindicate their pragmatism. ‘Keep it loose and cool’ seems to be the mantra of these pragmatic leaders, unlike the stuffy academic posturing in the media and virtual space. The meek might finally prevail in the long run.

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