During his 47-minute long address in Hindi at the Howdy Modi event in Houston, Texas, PM Narendra Modi endorsed US President Donald Trump for a second term in 2020, saying ‘Ab ki baar Trump sarkar’. Modi later walked hand-in-hand with Trump waving to about 50,000 Indian-Americans at the venue.
ThePrint asks: Is it smart diplomacy for PM Modi to align himself with Donald Trump’s campaign in Houston?
India’s adversaries will now have to factor in this Trump-Modi bonhomie in their calculations
Former Indian Ambassador to US
US President Donald Trump will no doubt seek to leverage his participation in the ‘Howdy, Modi!’ event at Houston for his own political purposes. In the 2016 US presidential elections, more than three-fourth of the Indian-American community had voted for his opponent Hillary Clinton. Indian immigrants in the US today are the highest median-income ethnic group, whose contributions in election campaigns have only been increasing.
Trump’s divisive persona no doubt prompted several Democrats to stay away from him, including four Indian-American politicians.
Yet, the anti-immigrant US President endorsing the contributions of the Indian-American community in pharmaceuticals and other sectors, and to the richness of American values and culture, will only add to the mainstreaming of Indian nationals in American society. It will enhance a sense of security among Indian immigrants who are desperate to receive H1B and H4 visas, who are also targets of anti-immigrant prejudices.
Despite being controversial and unpredictable, President Trump will be there till January 2021, and possibly even till 2025. His decisions on Russia and Iran sanctions, approach to China, Pakistan and Afghanistan, and on trade and technology issues, will have a direct bearing on India’s security. It will be useful to us if Trump is made mindful of India’s interests and concerns, which could possibly benefit him as well. It will encourage US allies and partners to be even more forthcoming in cooperating with India. Countries with an adversarial approach to India will have to factor in this Trump-Modi bonhomie in their calculations.
Better if Modi-Trump return to the understanding that India-US ties are a result of years of hard work
Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia at Council on Foreign Relations
The US-India relationship has been among the handful of issues enjoying bipartisan support in the United States as well as in India. Successive US administrations – both Democrat and Republican – and successive Indian governments – whether NDA- or UPA-led – have seen merit in advancing the relationship, particularly in the security and defence arena.
So, it was with some degree of puzzlement that I heard Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump’s remarks at the ‘Howdy, Modi!’ gathering. Modi, in repeating a slogan the Trump campaign used in 2016 (at a gathering organized by the Republican Hindu Coalition) that riffed on Modi’s own “abki baar Modi sarkar” left many listeners wondering if that was the equivalent of an endorsement.
And President Trump fully personalised US-India bilateral ties, claiming that India has “never had a better friend as president” than himself. This is obviously not true, given the bipartisan progress made over the past two decades.
The rhetoric used in speeches at the Houston event appears to elevate bilateral ties to something linked to a specific individual or party, rather than recognise a relationship that has developed over the years due to the work and support of leaders on both sides. Both Modi and Trump understated the strong element of bipartisanship that has been driving the India-US relationship. It would be better to return to that understanding.
Trump joining Modi in Houston calms fears that US-India trade spat won’t devolve into a bigger war
Wadhwani Chair in US-India Policy Studies, Center for Strategic & International Studies
Having US President Donald Trump join Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Houston helps Modi on two primary fronts. First, it is a tacit acknowledgement — at least, from New Delhi’s perspective — that the United States will not hold its relationship with India hostage to the revocation of Kashmir’s special constitutional status. Second, it calms fears of the business community that the US-India trade fight could devolve into a bigger war.
Now that the political “flash” of the big public event has passed, we must focus on the substance of Modi’s visit. New York will be crucial; less for the actual speech at the United Nations, but more to see if the two nations can indeed cobble together some sort of package of trade concessions to reduce tensions.
PM Modi must leverage his business engagements to rally a new wave of support for the US-India commercial relationship — there are currently more negative voices shaping US views of the Indian economy. India’s recent corporate tax cut should strengthen PM Modi’s hand as he attempts to woo new investors, helping burnish his reformist image. And the fact that the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue — United States, India, Japan and Australia — will have a minister-level summit should give ballast to the US’ security relationship.
Modi’s remark unlikely to raise eyebrows anywhere as norms of global politics today are being tossed aside
Research associate (specialising in South Asian geopolitics), Centre for Policy Research
The answer to the question posed is a qualified yes. Prime Minister Modi certainly breached protocol, when he said “Ab ki baar Trump sarkar” because it can be construed as an endorsement of President Trump in the 2020 US elections.
Traditionally, world leaders tend to steer clear of any interference in each other’s domestic politics. However, in today’s topsy-turvy world where norms of global politics are being tossed aside on a regular basis, PM Modi’s move is unlikely to raise too many eyebrows in the US or in other parts of the world.
Moreover, India-US relations are at a pivotal moment. Not only does India desperately need American investments and tariff waivers, it also wants Washington to stay detached from the Kashmir issue. Given that President Trump has shown himself to be a man susceptible to open flattery, PM Modi’s statement may be considered a sharp move to make the White House more amenable to Indian needs.
However, the Modi government should be careful not to be dragged in too deep in US politics. Should India appear to be openly batting for one or the other political party in the upcoming US presidential elections, it would end up antagonising far more people than it would befriend.
Modi and Trump mainly praised each other’s leadership skills, there was no outright endorsement
Former Foreign Secretary and diplomat
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Donald Trump have walked into a bit of a grey area. However, it is important to note that neither Modi outrightly endorsed Trump as the presidential candidate for the 2020 US elections, nor did Trump go out of his way to politically support Modi. They mostly praised each other’s leadership skills.
The ‘Howdy, Modi!’ event was attended by top rank Republican Party and Democratic Party leaders. In fact, when PM Modi asked people in the audience to give Trump a standing ovation, even the Democrats stood up. According to me, the entire interaction Modi had with Indian-Americans was within the limits of India and US’ bilateral relationship. So, as long as it is not an outright endorsement of either Donald Trump or the Republican Party, it is absolutely fine.
It is interesting to note that the majority of the Indian-American community usually votes for Democrats, but the ‘Howdy, Modi!’ event saw the community cheer US President Trump. We must realise that all these interactions were in the spirit of the event.
I also believe that the display of Modi-Trump’s friendship was done with good reason, essentially for a better strategic equation between India and the US. And we will see the fruits of these efforts when Modi and Trump have their individual meeting tomorrow, where they will most probably come out with some trade deal.
PM Modi taking a partisan position on US politics will negatively impact overseas Indians
Head of Research, Takshashila Institution
Whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s endorsement of US President Donald Trump at the ‘Howdy, Modi’ event should be termed smart diplomacy depends on its real impact on the future of India-US relations. The event by itself carries immense symbolic value, and the world will take note of how far India-US relations have come. This is a positive outcome. However, an Indian Prime Minister taking an overt partisan position on US domestic politics will have negative consequences.
First, this sets a precedent for any foreign leader to take sides in Indian elections or its politics. This could ultimately make it tough for India to manage its relations with other countries. Second, the Indian-American community faces the risk of being seen as more Indian and less American. Opponents of Donald Trump might even play up this line of thinking to reap political dividends in the 2020 US presidential elections. So, the costs involved are real.
Backlash against China’s attempts to influence Australia’s domestic politics showed that once nationalist political sentiments take precedence in the host country, immigrant communities face the risk of being isolated and targeted.
By Revathi Krishnan, journalist at ThePrint