US President Donald Trump, left, Shinzo Abe, Japan's prime minister, center, and Narendra Modi at G-20 summit in Osaka, Friday| Photo: Carl Court | Bloomberg
US President Donald Trump, left, Shinzo Abe, Japan's prime minister, center, and Narendra Modi at G-20 summit in Osaka, Friday| Photo: Carl Court | Bloomberg
Text Size:

It’s been a lot of fun, being with you, we’ve had some good talks already…” said US President Donald Trump to Prime Minister Narendra Modi Friday morning in Osaka on the margins of the G-20 summit.

If that sounded like Teacher Trump telling a recalcitrant student off, then you got it right. In the TV screen grab, Modi is quiet, as he turns his notes over in his hands, while Trump speaks nonstop sitting next to him.

“You deserve it (victory). You have done a great job in pulling together. I remember when you first took over, there were many factions and they were fighting with each other and now they get along…” Trump continued.

Even if you didn’t vote for Modi this election, he definitely had your sympathy.


Also read: Modi can’t forget trade war with US just because Trump called him a ‘great friend’ at G-20


Certainly, the real estate dealer-turned-powerful world leader didn’t seem to have realised that he was treating the Prime Minister of 1.3 billion people with a certain lack of grace. Trump redefines the meaning of the phrase, ‘The Ugly American,’ not because he is loud, boorish, cruel and unkind, but because he doesn’t even realise he is all of the above.

It’s probably why Modi reacted with a certain peevishness when he and Trump brushed up against each other the first two times they met – the first time in June 2017, in the White House, when Modi tried to hug him, as he is wont to do with world leaders, except Trump seemed totally uncomfortable with the idea of a male embrace.

The second time around, in November 2017, on the margins of an ASEAN summit in Manila, Modi and Trump got off the wrong foot because the PM felt Trump had treated him “like just another Asian leader.”

You can see why. Trump must have brushed off the obvious eagerness of the Indian Prime Minister, like so many other Third World leaders are wont to do in the presence of Powerful People.


Also read: India-Russia S-400 missile deal gets no mention during Modi-Trump talks at G-20 meeting


Except India isn’t just another Third World country – a lesson that Trump’s predecessor George Bush Jr (he didn’t know who India’s prime minister was when he was the Republic frontrunner in 1999 presidential elections) and Barack Obama (he was extremely tough on India’s nuclear weapons programme and wanted India to sign the NPT) learnt fairly quickly when they met India’s political leaders and diplomats. Both Bush and Obama came around over the years, both realising the value of partnering with a democratic country in a region littered with dictators.

To Modi’s credit, he didn’t let his emotions show this time around in Osaka. The Prime Minister has matured and he realises the world stage is actually a little bit like the hurly-burly of domestic politics.

The deal-making, the poison-tipped barb, the smiling sweetly but turning the knife within, the hard knuckles negotiation, the eye-to-eye stare. It’s what foreign policy is also made up of.


Also read: Faking Indian accent, bear hugs, public jibes & praises — how Modi-Trump ties have evolved


This time around, Modi didn’t make the mistake of hugging Trump. He assumed the quiet dignity of his office, which represents 1.3 billion people – even if you didn’t vote for him – and let Trump ramble on and on. The US president revealed his gracelessness in the manner in which he addressed PM Modi. Modi dealt with his loquaciousness by simply keeping quiet.

Both Modi and Trump know that their foreign office establishments have been working really hard to put together a meeting in Osaka, keeping some margin for error. Like the Mike Pompeo throwaway remark on Iran being “the world’s largest sponsor of terrorism” in his New Delhi press conference – remarks to his own audience back home rather than the one in front of him – or Trump’s irresponsible tweet on the eve of his meeting with Modi, telling Modi that he has to withdraw tariffs on American products, or else.

Well, some of that will happen. It’s bound to. But the stakes for India in the relationship with the US are far too important to be allowed to fray at the sight of an offensive tweet – and vice-versa. Trump may or may not know it, but India is doing far more than most countries in the world for the Americans, by just being there, a massive country in the Indian Ocean, right next to China.

In the next few weeks, the Indo-US relationship will stabilise. The US is working to send a delegation to Piyush Goyal’s commerce ministry to figure out how to reduce tariffs that have so irked the US president. It’s not a big deal. What you put on, you can easily take back.


Also read: Modi should strengthen ties with the US but not allow Trump to bully India


Osaka will be remembered for the manner in which Modi bit his tongue at Trump’s rude remarks and went on to calmly talk to the world’s most powerful leader. He vindicated the trust that India put in him, which was to separate the all-important relationship with the US from the personal careless disregard that Trump may or may not have for Modi.

Can the cat catch mice, Deng Xiaoping may have asked himself time and again, as he embarked upon the opening up of China in 1978. Modi faces several important struggles back home, including facing up to Right-wing ideologues like S. Gurumurthy on issues like data sovereignty, but he also realises that India is once again on the cusp of a big dilemma. Should it look ahead into the future or look back at its contested history?

Modi is keenly aware that the ability to answer that question also, partially, lies in his hands. On the eve of his Japan visit, he called for the punishment of those men lynching Muslims in Jharkhand. That statement was not only meant for the foreign audience that he was about to meet, but for his own people at home, those who have been fed on a relentless anti-Islam diet.

The weeks and months ahead will show the path that Modi and India chooses.

ThePrint is now on Telegram. For the best reports & opinion on politics, governance and more, subscribe to ThePrint on Telegram.

Subscribe to our YouTube channel.

12 Comments Share Your Views

12 COMMENTS

  1. Jyoti ji, nice one there, Modi is surely maturing and that is good for our foreign policy.
    All angry comments are from upper caste half educated men with normal 9 to 5 jobs. Imagine what their wives have to put up. Feel sorry for them and they will only keep coming back

    • I did not know that one can know the caste of a person, by just looking at his first name !
      But that’s not all.
      You can even tell if they are married or not , educated or not, and even their job timings!!
      Mind-blowing capabilities.
      We need a PM like you. Modi can learn.

  2. What a moronic article – what on earth did Trump say that was boorish, or rude, or insulting? Is the hack who wrote this article just another of the dim-witted, quasi-psychopathic biased media who will vomit ridiculous negativity against Trump no matter what he says or does ( in this case making complimentary, generous comments on Modi’s reelection)- or did the hack also imbibe a few high octane substances before he reported / wrote this rubbish? The Print editors – are you off your collective minds to let this utter nonsense pass as reporting of a meeting between leaders of the world’s two biggest democracies?

  3. The Indian PM has matured with time. Stakes are much higher for the USA. It is up to the Indian diplomats how they negotiate. Going defensive will not help and I am sure India knows they still have a friend in Russia. USA cannot afford to make one more enemy in the region along with China, Russia, Iran, and Pakistan. Even on the Iran matter India should have a firm stance.

  4. If espionage is all about smoke and mirrors then diplomacy is all about reading between the lines…trump utters a lot of things mostly for his domestic audience..one should not take it seriously…the very fact that pompeo was allowed to make the statement about iran in his speech in india shows …what goes on behind the scenes is not what appears in front …for letting pompeo make that statement ….india HAS extracted its pound of flesh….and lastly not to forget the “VERY WARM” letter(from trump)that pompeo handed to PM modi …as he met the PM first before any of his engagements began…

  5. Another irrelevant article from Jyoti and another surprise that ThePrint continues with her articles. A PM of 1.3 billion hardly needs any lessons or certificates in diplomatic behavior from Jyoti. Unless of course, Jyoti has started accepting Modi for what he is!! Modi knows what he is doing and why he is doing it. Besides, he has a brilliant team in MEA to support which is now headed by a retired professional diplomat. Tweets and loose talks by Trump carry no meaning and India will decide as per what is best in its interest, whether it is S-400, Iran, data localization or tariffs. India and USA know that India is the only country in Asia which can actually partner with USA to hold off China in Indo-Pacific. It is in US interest not let India down as it is Indian interest not to let US go away from it. Trade and investments are hardly strategic issues which should worry us, given that we have a huge balance of payment problem with China. It would be worth it if we reduce or eliminate that deficit and increase our trade with USA.

  6. Journalists like Jyoti Malhotra are obsolete!! They relied on the old masters of Delhi to plant news through them but now with them gone, she hunts for a few titbits and adds her biased conjecture based on her limited thinking.

    Shekhar Gupta has a new young team and it a pleasure to read their news, analysis and opinion.

  7. This looks more like an article on Times than in ThePrint. Immature, sensational heading, using Modi name to get eyeballs etc.
    Dear Shekhar Gupta, you may need to weed out such columnists if your organisation has to hold its own as a respectable news house. It’s fine to have left, right and centrist views but back them with data and gravitas. I compare some of your articles and of some other columnists in ThePrint with NY Times. Please don’t let us down.

  8. So finally Modi got a pass certificate from a leftist. Which poison has filled her mind can be understood when she proclaims “his own people at home i.e. Modi’s Hindu supporters, those who have been fed on a relentless anti-Islam diet.” As usual leftists would never accept that this anti-Islam diet has been manufactured by leftists themselves like Jyoti and it’s freely distributed to Hindus. I feel said that Shekhar Gupta is allowing The Print to be dominated with journalists of leftist mindset in constant fight with Hindus.

  9. It may not be a bad idea to depersonalise diplomacy a little, let the professional diplomats get on with the job. 2. MEA needs to segregate what one may call the Passions of Trump – the whole world is dealing with them – from what are emerging as genuine difference in the interests of the two countries. Take the development of 5 G networks, where Huawei is good for India. At this stage of our economic development, we cannot afford to make sacrifices to keep one good friend happy.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here