Prime Minister Narendra Modi with US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump | @narendramodi | Twitter
File photo | Prime Minister Narendra Modi with US President Donald Trump and Melania Trump, February 2020 | @narendramodi | Twitter
Text Size:

In the dying light of the Donald Trump administration, India is revamping its foreign policy efforts in key recognition of the possibility that in a brave new Biden world it may have to work harder in order to impress its stamp on old and new geographies.

In this direction, Army chief M.M. Naravane is being sent to Nepal to repair brotherly ties between the Indian and Nepalese armies – since time immemorial, the two army chiefs have held honorary ranks of General in the fighting force of the other. Last week, India’s ambassador to Bangladesh, Vikram Doraiswamy, drove from Tripura to Dhaka and went straight to the home of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rehman and paid homage at the site where he was brutally massacred. Earlier this week, Dhaka announced it would not co-fund Chinese trials of the Sinovac vaccine in Bangladesh. In Afghanistan, ambassador Rudrendra Tandon took over at a time when talks between Kabul and the Taliban are stalled as both negotiate ways to share power. And in the Maldives, a $400-million line of credit was signed to build the largest single-connectivity project in the island nation.

Most significantly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will share the video screen with Chinese president Xi Jinping next month when both participate in the BRICS summit hosted by Russia. Despite the fact that China may be Enemy Number One these days, India certainly doesn’t want to offend Russian President Vladimir Putin by turning down his invite. New Delhi also needs the Russians, just in case. Alongside its dependence on Russian arms as the Ladakh dispute with China carries into the winter, India needs to keep as many big powers on its side.

But it will be the final Mike Pompeo and Mark Esper waltz with S. Jaishankar and Rajnath Singh on 26-27 October that will be the cynosure of all eyes. The ‘2+2’ India-US foreign and defence ministers’ conference is taking place in Delhi, bar a last-minute hitch, just one week before the all-important US presidential election on 3 November.

Also read: Vote for America or vote for India-US ties — Why Indian Americans and their funding matter

Defence agreements on table

There will be several toasts of orange juice and/or nimbu-paani at the ‘2+2’, of course, in recognition of one sterling fact: the Modi government has done more to cement the India-US relationship, even as ties with other great powers have subsided and the threat from China has simultaneously risen.

There is talk that the third agreement in the trio of foundational defence agreements, the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), will be signed to deepen both defence and strategic ties. Along with the previous two pacts, the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) and Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), the integration of the two defence forces will be significantly advanced.

Now all these pacts are not just about highly advanced weapons systems, owned by two different countries that are now talking to each other, but also presuppose an extraordinary level of political and strategic trust in each other – a bit like sinking into the arms of a beloved person knowing that (s)he is there, no matter what.

Whether or not BECA is signed this month, it’s a sign of how both administrations have pressed closer together in the warm afterglow of the Trump-Modi bromance.

Also read: More than two-thirds of Indian Americans likely to vote for Joe Biden, survey says

A common enemy

All this, despite the fact that Modi’s officials hesitated to shed their officialdom on the trade front, so no trade deal could be signed; despite the bombastic ‘Howdy! Modi’ and ‘Namaste Trump’ events in Houston and Ahmedabad; despite Trump’s criticism of India during the presidential debate; and despite the fact that Indian-Americans are expected to vote in much larger numbers for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, rather than Trump and Pence.

At the end of the day, when the Trump history is written, the India-US relationship may be reduced to a paragraph or two. But in India’s case, the slow but definite turn towards the US has been clearly manufactured, sold and implemented by PM Modi under the cajoling warmth of the Jaishankar establishment

In three weeks time, of course, the world may change – or not quite. The disagreements of the past — notably the time last year when Jaishankar refused to meet a US foreign affairs panel because it included a highly critical voice of the revocation of Jammu & Kashmir’s Article 370 — will likely be papered over by the big, common threat to the free and democratic world. China.

Also read: India, US 2+2 meeting on 26-27 October, defence foundational pact likely on agenda

‘2+2’ is a sign

None other than US deputy secretary of state Stephen Biegun realises the world is changing – and his own country with it. In an unusual trip to New Delhi, days after Mike Pompeo met Jaishankar in Tokyo for the Quad meeting, Beigun described the Quad as “Pax Indo-Pacifica”. He insisted the US recognised India’s fundamental need for strategic autonomy and would not pull it into an alliance.

It was a salute to the depth of the India-US relationship that has grown not just amid the colour and the clamour best expressed by its two leaders, but also to the dogged and determined work behind the scenes.

That’s why the ‘2+2’ dialogue on 26-27 October is significant. If all goes well, bar a last-minute hurdle, the fact that Pompeo and Esper are flying halfway across the world for a meeting they may as well have held over video, speaks volumes for the respect they have for India – and vice-versa.

In the dying of the light of the Trump administration, India’s head is surely looking for new ways, from Maldives to Moscow, to diversify and revamp its foreign policy ties. As for its heart, it lost it somewhere to Trump’s fellas. Those were the days, my friend.

Views are personal.

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it

India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.

But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.

ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.

Support Our Journalism

5 Comments Share Your Views


  1. Jyoti needs Jyoti in her brain. She is assuming Trump defeat. Great biased journalism from The Print – the so called flag bearer of Indian democracy, freedom of press and speech.

    Doesnt even quote a poll or political analyst to back her assumption of Trump defeat

  2. We cant expect two mature countries to develop relations contingent on the friendship between their leaders. Indian foregin policy will have to maneuver itself to fit our long term interests. Neither Modi, nor Biden or Trump are permanent fixtures — we should be playing the infinite game. That said, if India gets its mojo back and has an economy that grows 8% YoY, every mistake is forgivable. If not, we are feeding into the left-woke crowd in the US and thats a slippery slope!

  3. Whatever the reason Pompeo and and Esper are flying down for the ‘2+2’ dialogue, after November 3 defeat of Trump, they both would be gone for ever alongwith their bioss Trump, NEVER TO BE HEARD AGAIN! The new Bisen administration is supposed to be far gentler to China. As the vice president for 8 years during Obama administration, Biden had good personal relationship with Xi of China. 2. Defence agreements may be on table, but none of them would require any country to fight wars of other countries. The US, under NATO treaty obligation which requires it to protect any NATO member country under attack, REFUSES TO MEET THAT OBLIGATION, AND PROTECT NATO MEMBERS LIKE SMALL ESTONIA WITH A POPULATION OF LESS THAN TWO MILLION! IT IS PULLING OUT OF AFGHANISTAN AFTER SPENDING THERE BI;LLIONS OF DOLLARS AND SPILLING LOT OF AMERICAN BLOOD IN TWO DECADES, IT IS ALSO PULLING OUT TROOPS FROM GERMANY, A NATO COUNTRY AT THE FRONT AGAINST RUSSIA. WHY WOULD IT THEN GO TO WAR AGAINST CHINA TO DEFEND ANY OTHER COUNTRY? ITS ECONOMY IS IN VERY BAD SHAPE, AND BIDEN’S TOP MOST PRIORITY WOULD BE TO REVIVE THE ECONOMY, NOT WAGE WARS WITH CHINA AND GO BROKE ECONOMICALLY, WHEN IT WOULD NEED CHINA MOST TO REPAIR ITS ECONOMY. ECONOMIES OF OTHER COUNTRIES LIKE AUSTRALIA, INDIA, ETC. ARE ALSO IN BAD SHAPES. 3. “A COMMON ENEMY”? NO, THERE WOULDN’T BE ANY ENEMY FOR THE REASON THAT NO COUNTRY CAN AFFORD AN ENEMY.

  4. Friendship with the United States is the bedrock of Indian foreign policy. Given this imperative, it would be prudent not to personalise a government to government relationship beyond a point. Not to an extent that there will be a few anxious, tense moments in South Block when the votes are counted after 3rd November. The fact that about 75% of Indian Americans will be voting for the Democrats mitigates what was a misstep in getting mixed up in a foreign election. 2. To sustain this friendship and also to revamp our foreign policy, what is most required is for Indian hard and soft power to continue to surge. We should not be lagging our potential to this worrying extent.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here