With US President Donald Trump’s visit to India, both the countries are expecting to revive their strained relations. With over 1.2 million Indian-Americans expected to vote in the upcoming US elections, the visit is also being viewed as an opportunity for Trump to woo his voter base ahead of the elections later this year.
While the Indian External Affairs Ministry has denied that the joint address by both leaders is directly intended to influence US politics, Sanjay Baru, a former media adviser to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who led the country from 2004-2008, discussed the implications of Trump’s visit with regard to US politics in an interview with Sputnik.
Baru states that there are three dimensions to the visit – the economic, geopolitical and domestic politics of the US – and from Trump’s point of view, the third is the most important.
Sputnik: With Prime Minister Modi declaring ‘Is Baar Trump ki Sarkar (This time, Trump’s Government)’ at the Howdy Modi event in Houston, Texas and “Namaste Trump” in Ahmedabad, India, is Prime Minister Modi jeopardising India’s interests by openly supporting Trump?
Sanjay Baru: It would not be fair to say that he is openly supporting Trump. We have tried to balance both sides. Even in Houston, a senior Democrat leader had come for Howdy Modi. Foreign Minister Jaishankar has been in touch with various Democratic Party leaders. So, we are trying to maintain a balance. But Modi and India have taken a calculated risk that President Trump will get a second term. From the American media, it appears that Trump will get a second term. The Democrats are divided, Trump got out of the impeachment problem and the economy is doing well, so it’s possible President Trump will get a second term.
Hence, it is a calculated risk. Mr. Modi is a risk-taker. He has taken a lot of political risks and this is one of those risks. We may as well get lucky to be able to say later that, see Trump, we were with you before the elections. It’s a calculated risk which might pay off.
Sputnik: From the US drone attack on Iran’s General Qasem Soleimani to the US planning to reduce its troops in Afghanistan and making deal with Taliban, what should be India’s approach in balancing relations with these countries?
Sanjay Baru: Americans have already and wisely taken the view that India has its own relations with Iran and India would not be subject to American sanctions as far as Chahbahar (the Iranian seaport) is concerned. As far as oil is concerned, we have ourselves reduced our purchases from them. We are maintaining a balance that we will have certain strategic relations with Iran. So far, even the US has taken a balanced view and not pushed India beyond a point. And if they do so, they will only be upsetting India.
I am not sure what exactly we expect from President Trump or what he expects from us on Afghanistan. Our concern is that it might mean the return of Taliban to Afghanistan, it might mean reversal of the forces in Afghanistan, it would also mean the rising importance of Pakistan. We have to manage that.
The United States’ decision to reduce the troops beyond a point can destabilise the region. India will then have to take whatever steps are necessary to deal with that, because destabilising South Asia cannot be in India’s interest.
Sputnik: You were in office when President Barack Obama visited India in 2010. How do you view Trump’s visit being different from those of presidents who have visited before?
Sanjay Baru: I am looking at the visit as an outsider right now, so I can’t say anything informative. But Obama was a very different personality and Trump is a showman. And the only worry on the minds of diplomats will be what Trump will tweet. I think nothing else is as worrisome as what tweets he will put out. He lives in the world of tweets.
Dealing with Trump is entering a completely new terrain. In the past, we have had presidents of whom, in some ways, you had a good measure of them, whether it was Bush, Clinton or Obama. Whether we speak of Prime Minister Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh or Mr. Modi, they all had a fairly good measure of the person they were talking to. With Trump, you never know, today he is up and tomorrow he is down. You don’t know what mood he will be in. A lot of effort will go into making him feel happy, that is why maybe first he is landing in Ahmedabad where there will be a lot of “Zindabad” (Long Live) Trump.
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