PM Modi scores in Houston

The rally with Trump was a diplomatic and political win

Howdy Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s joint appearance with United States (US) President Donald Trump at a rally in Houston is a significant moment in India-US ties, which will arrest the perception of drift in the relationship, and provide the right political signal to move on thorny issues. It will also help boost Mr Modi’s credentials both internationally and domestically; enhance New Delhi’s diplomatic capital at a crucial time in geopolitics; revive the India story internationally; boost the power of the Indian-American community in US politics; and go some way in addressing concerns about the direction India is headed both politically and economically.

To place it in context, for over a year, doubts had begun to grow about the trajectory of the relationship. The US dependence on Islamabad to get out of Afghanistan had led to a sense in Delhi that Washington was tilting back to Pakistan. And this could come at the cost of India. After New Delhi changed the constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir, while the US was broadly supportive of the Indian position, its caveats on the clampdown in the Valley meant that the situation was fragile. The more important issue, for Mr Trump, was what he saw as Indian intransigence on trade-related issues. Differences on both Russia and Iran continued to mark conversations between the two countries.

But New Delhi decided that, notwithstanding differences, it was important to keep an eye on the “big picture”. The big picture was the need to preserve and deepen ties with an ally whose support is critical for India to meet its strategic and economic aspirations. Mr Modi and his team banked on a well thought-out strategy: Leverage the power of the diaspora, appease Mr Trump, while firmly reiterating India’s own interests. By speaking of India’s democracy and its diversity, Mr Modi showcased the common values with the US. By defending his moves in Kashmir, linking it to terrorism, and espousing a partnership with Mr Trump on counterterror, Mr Modi sought to neutralise Pakistan. By speaking of India’s demography, aspirational citizens, and its economic potential, he sought to win over foreign capital. By appearing to endorse Mr Trump, but not doing so explicitly, Mr Modi took a calculated risk — bank on the US president’s support as long as he will be in office, and bank on the underlying drivers of the relationship if the Democrats return. Put it all together, and it is clear that India has achieved its aims in Houston. PM Modi has, through the power of theatre, a risk-taking appetite, and personal chemistry, scored a triumph.

SOURCE: Hindustan Times| Sep 23, 2019