NEW DELHI: Now that US President Donald Trump has survived the third Presidential impeachment in the history of the United States, decks are all cleared for his maiden visit to India to honour the personal request of his “bear-hug” friend and Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.
The India trip, which has got more or less cleared after the Senate’s acquittal of President Trump in the impeachment proceedings he battled for nearly three weeks, will be what many Indian-Americans and India watchers in the US say, a “Howdy-Modi replay in India” to showcase the “bonhomie” and the “personal chemistry” the two leaders of world’s two largest and oldest democracies enjoy.
While the dates have not been officially announced, but the buzz in both Indian and the US foreign affairs offices is that the President is expected to arrive in India on 24 February and set the stage for high-level and intense Indo-US trade and defence ties, besides sending a strong message back home to the Democrats that he is “popular overseas too”. Sources confirmed that India is waiting to lay out the red carpet for him in cities including Delhi, Ahmedabad and Agra to give President Trump the feel of “Incredible India”.
Elaborate arrangements showcasing India’s warm hospitality are on the cards and it is expected that President Trump will start his visit from Ahmedabad in Gujarat, which is also PM Modi’s home state. This will indirectly benefit President Trump, who is thus expected to win over a large chunk of the American Gujarati vote bank back home in the upcoming US Presidential election. With PM Modi keeping him company, he has already made a statement of friendship to a large Indian-American population in Houston during the Howdy Modi event. The India trip is strategic in many ways for both leaders.
Sources say that President Trump is expected to visit Mahatma Gandhi’s Sabarmati ashram and will address a town-hall like event, which may even see participation from Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The planned event will be substantially bigger than the “Howdy Modi” show held in Houston last year. Then President Trump will visit Delhi and have a photo opportunity in front of the Taj Mahal in Agra.
South Asia expert at the Woodrow Wilson Centre in Washington DC, Michael Kugelman says: “‘Trump’s visit to India will deliver a much-needed big boost to a relationship that can certainly benefit from a fillip. This is a President who doesn’t like to travel, and really doesn’t like to travel long distances. So his willingness to go to India underscores the importance that he ascribes to the relationship.”
Indian-Americans are upbeat and look forward to this upcoming trip as a big message to the world and also hint at Trump confirming his “personal ties with Modi”, which also promises to lift India’s status in the sub-continent and mark its deeper involvement in the US strategic game plan in the South Asian and Indo-Pacific regions.
Elaborating on the mood, Mukesh Aghi, president and CEO of US-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF), told The Sunday Guardian: “It is important for President Trump to visit India before he gets into re-election mode in the later part of this year. Strategically, India is a partner in the Indo-Pacific region. While Trump has visited China, he has not visited India. The visit is also about the message to China that India is critical and an important partner of the US in its Indo-Pacific strategic affairs and security matters.”
Another top name in the Indian American community and philanthropist Frank Islam has an even interesting take on Trump’s India visit. He told The Sunday Guardian: “The fact that President Trump is going to visit India should not come as a surprise. The last three occupants of the Oval Office—Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama—have all visited the country. In fact, Obama visited India twice as President. What is noteworthy is India’s growing stature and prominence Washington gives to ties with New Delhi. “
Aghi added that this trip will boost India’s stature. “Within the sub-continent India’s stature will definitely shine due to Trump’s visit. More important, Trump’s visit will highlight four million Indian-Americans. In the next election he needs these votes and funds. In the last election, only 14% Indian Americans voted Republican. States like Texas, New Jersey and Florida become important for Trump. On a per capita basis, India Americans are the richest minority group and they contribute highest in political campaigns. Hence, their vote is important for Trump,” says Aghi.
But as a businessman he is known to be, Trump will bring a clear business mandate to the talks with Modi. Most important would be strengthening of trade between India and the US, which many in Washington DC see as the only roadblock to a full-fledged relationship. Trump will definitely push for breaking many trade barriers to make up what US has closed with China. Many Indian Americans also see this as an opportunity for India to seize the stage left by China in trade with the US.
Islam, who is himself an investor and an entrepreneur, said: “All aspects of bilateral relations will be on table, including defence and strategic ties and commercial partnership. However, since Trump has bet his presidency on trade matters, a bilateral trade agreement, which seems to be on the anvil, is likely to be one of the highlights of the trip.”
India-America energy diplomacy, which was made the core of the strategic ties since the Houston meet between the two leaders, will be taken to the next level as US President is coming with a clear agenda to minimise India’s reliance on West Asia, including Iran for energy. Raising Indian energy imports from $1 billion and $2 billion annually to nearly $6 billion in 2019, US trade analysts put this figure of India’s energy imports from the US at $10 billion next year.
The intense trade and energy ties between two countries will send strong signals globally. Aghi told this newspaper: “Trade deal is important. After US-Mexico-Canada deal, China deal, India deal will send a strong message that Trump is winning for America.”
However, Islam is curious and is watching the developments closely. He sums up the mood of the upcoming trip as, “It would be fascinating to see what Trump would say on the Kashmir situation!”