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Trump’s vanity makes PM Modi look stronger — and gives him a chance to fix economy at home

By diversifying trade, Modi should send the message to America that India is open to business – and Kashmir is a domestic matter.

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POTUS, ostensibly the world’s most powerful individual, just fell a little bit in the eyes of its friend and natural ally – India. The ministry of external affairs pointed out, within minutes of US President Donald Trump’s video telling Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan that PM Narendra Modi had requested him to mediate on Kashmir becoming public, that there was no question of any of the above.

This is not about conversation being lost in translation. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s English may not be similar to Imran Khan’s Oxbridge accent, but at least he is a freely elected prime minister. Not even in Gujarati, would Modi dream of telling an American president that he should mediate in Kashmir.

In public, India isn’t likely to say much more. Modi would have probably pursed his lips this morning as he read the papers and called external affairs minister S. Jaishankar to explain the inexplicable turnaround of a man who had last accused Pakistan’s leaders of “lies and deceit.”


Also read: It’s impossible to believe two incredible countries can’t solve a problem like Kashmir: Trump


In private, too, Modi will look beyond Trump at the larger India-US canvas. After all, he is likely meeting the US President when he goes to the US in September, by which time the India-US relationship must lift itself up from an attempted deathly blow that Trump doesn’t even know he’s delivered.

Frank G. Wisner, a powerful former US ambassador to India who single-handedly stopped P.V. Narasimha Rao from testing a nuclear weapon in 1995, told ThePrint over the phone, “Don’t listen to Trump.”

Edward Luce of the Financial Times, who wrote the 2004 book In Spite of the Gods: The Rise of Modern India, in a detailed thread on Twitter, asked why Trump would carry out such an act of self-harm, and said:

A third US analyst with intimate knowledge of US-India relations added, “Trump doesn’t read anything. He thinks he knows everything. He probably never read the briefs he was given on India. Thing is, he even likes India. But he probably never read or understood anything related to Kashmir or the sensitivity of the matter.”

While C. Christine Fair, a keen Pakistan watcher and one of South Asia’s ablest analysts whose book on the Lashkar-e-Taiba is essential reading, told ThePrint that Trump’s comments are largely driven by “the trade imbalance between the US and India, including tariffs on a Harley-Davidson bike that few want to drive”.

Fair may have something there. In his inaugural comments with Imran Khan, Trump said, “We have many things to discuss: military and terrorism and trade.  And I think we’re going to spend a lot of time talking about trade because we do very little trade with Pakistan compared to what we could be doing and should be doing…”


Also read: US plays down Trump’s ‘embarrassing’ remarks on Kashmir, says it stands ready to assist


Ironically, commerce minister Piyush Goyal and his US trade representative counterpart Robert Lighthizer are meeting in a few weeks in Washington DC to discuss precisely this: How to reduce tariffs on apples, almonds, medical devices and other products that have upset India so much.

Goyal could argue that the Americans hit the Modi government hard, and on the same day it was elected with a majority not seen since 1984, by withdrawing benefits on Indian exports.

But, because India must look ahead and conduct its most important relationship with good grace – and because Modi will meet Chinese President Xi Jinping in Varanasi a month later – it has already decided to withdraw high tariffs on 28 products (including apples and almonds) it slammed against the US in retaliation.

Despite POTUS’ terribly ignorant remarks on Kashmir and Modi, India knows it needs the US. Not just to deal with China rising with such quiet determination across the region, but to help stabilise its own economy at home. Unfortunately, the decision to demonetise in 2016 was done totally independently of the Americans. If the economy at home is in such poor shape, with unemployment at a 45-year-high, then Modi must find the wherewithal at home to fix that.

So, how can Modi deal with the most insensitive American leader since Richard Nixon, who sent an aircraft carrier into the Bay of Bengal in 1971 to scare off India?


Also read: With Trump cosying up to Pakistan, India has reason to feel like it needs a new friend


Actually, Modi doesn’t have to do very much, besides treating the remarks with the contempt they deserve. He should let his ministers do the talking – Jaishankar will surely be withering in his responses with his US interlocutors only to find that they probably agree, off the record.

Second, engage more, not less. Modi should offer to withdraw tariffs not just on the 28 products, but also on other US goods, including the Harley-Davidson bike that POTUS loves so dearly. Removing the surcharge on the super-rich and other conditions on FDI would be the smartest thing to do this week.

By diversifying its trade and other relationships, Modi should send the message to America and the rest of the world that India is open to business – and Kashmir is a domestic matter.

Third, Modi should take a leaf out of P.V. Narasimha Rao’s book and reach out to the opposition on Kashmir. When the going got tough in 1994, Rao sent Atal Bihari Vajpayee as the head of a delegation to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, where Kashmir was high on the agenda.

Significantly, the substantial critical commentary by US analysts on Trump’s remarks suggests that the US government would like to privately continue to deal with India on a priority basis.


Also read: Will Trump be the US president to cure the world of the ‘global migraine’ called Pakistan?


Pakistan is a real headache, Trump will find next week, when Pakistan army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa (who accompanied Imran Khan to the US and was only one step behind him as he walked with Trump in the White House) pulls the Taliban puppets on strings that he controls.

What Trump wants is flattery and obsequiousness. He rivals Mohammed bin Tughlaq in wanting to be the centre of attention.

By treating him courteously, India – and Modi – should just hold her peace. After all, it is a 5000-year-old civilisation. The rest will, naturally, follow.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. For 5000 years old civilization, you guys have not learn a thing, lost major territories, subdued by outsiders, remain confined to a sub continents, never ventures into other part of the worlds to spread your genius. You remained as docile and dumb as a doorknob people.

  2. Surprisingly, a mature write up in the ‘national interest’ by Jyoti. We are making too much of what Trump said. US badly needs Pak to deliver on Afghanistan. Trump has re-election next year and he can do anything to please Pak to get out of Afghan quagmire.

    With that non-sense sorted out, a few things should be very clear to us. We need US to check mate China in Indian Ocean, just as we need Israel, Russia and France for their defense equipment against Pak and China (on land border). Whatever we are engaged with US is essentially on this issue- LEMOAs, NATO type ally and all that. We have multi alignment with US, Russia, China, Arab countries and Iran keeping our national interest in mind. I am sure despite such obviously stupid remarks by POTUS, we will be on course with US.

    As regards trade issues, it is another matter and we should give and take with US with a view to benefit from growing rift between US and China.

    Of course, we should not invite this man for our Republic Day parade anytime and ideally avoid inviting him to India altogether, even if he returns in the second term, which he is quite likely to achieve. But Modi must hug him tightly anytime he meets him and tell him to solve Kashmir issue once and for all by delivering POK to India with a promise to allow forever duty free import of Harley Davidson bikes. As a bonus, Modi can also offer him a huge tract of land free for Trump Resort and Golf Course in Swat Valley!

  3. Modi and trump were walking along.. on a hot afternoon..when they came across a tumbler filled with water ..
    Modi said to trump..”lets share it” (meaning… both should partake the water)..
    Trump picks up the tumbler and pours all the water on modi’s head…..and then puts the tumbler on his own head…
    THAT is WHAT donald trump THE MAN is…
    We should do what we need to do..and keep on doing it..keeping our interests in mind..(but at the same time ..not giving the impression of absolutism)…capitulating on some aspects “a LITTLE” is ok…but anything more than that will show a sign of weakness(trump will only use this, all the more to his advantage)….
    The PM of course will use this blunder of trump “ALSO” to his advantage..he is a shrewd man who has achieved and created his own legacy of “NEGOTIATING “deals in the heat and dust of indian politics…unlike trump who has inherited a legacy and “CUT” real estate deals within the confines of a boardroom.(remember everone thought that foriegn policy would be modi’s acchilles heel but he surprised everyone by excelling in it to a large extent)
    The recent happenings concerning the “RIC AXIS” has not gone down too well with trump..(it has rattled him to some extent) both putin and Xi (wt a lot of charm offensive and persuasion) have succeded to a great extent in getting modi to “LEAN” more towards the RIC AXIS.(and this coming after the BRICS and SCO)…as both XI and putin know that whether it is trump or whoever (dem candidate) wins nxt elections..US strategic policy towards both russia and especially china is not going to change much..india has to do a delicate balancing act taking these 3 countries..as all 3 see india as ‘A’ pottential CATALYST to their their geo strategic ambitions and economical needs and developments….I think the NEXT GR8 GAME is going to b played between these 3 countries with global hagemony on a broad spectrum bieng the stake with rejional power thrusts bieng the play….india will have to tread carefully and do a “VERY” delicate balancing act..as the stakes are going to b much higher now…(than the cold war)
    PS. The so called strings that bajwa controls (taliban) have got a BIT ENTANGLED..(if one reads about pashtun discontent..the PTM …the simmering sentiments in rejions of FATA..the TTP making a “small” comeback..)

  4. The decision to impose retaliatory tariffs after the US withdrew GSP benefits could have been thought through more carefully. Before landing in Japan for the G 20 summit, President Trump tweeted his displeasure. If we now cave in and withdraw them – our family loves both apples and almonds – that would stand out in stark relief to what the Chinese have done. They did not want a trade / tariff war with America, tried all in their power to block and impede it. However, they made it clear that they would reciprocate in kind once America levied import duties. They have done so, are sustaining incredible pain to an already slowing economy. 2. A very awkward situation for our Foreign Office to say, within minutes, that the great man is lying. A rocky relationship lies ahead. Given his personality and temperament, the wisdom and utility of more one on one meetings should be carefully assessed. Impulsive gestures like inviting him to be Chief Guest at the Republic Day parade are better avoided. My sinking heart tells me he will win a second term.

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