US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will be arriving to India within a week. He will follow several other high-ranking US officials, who have been to New Delhi since the Trump administration took office on 20 January, such as National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and Defense Secretary James Mattis, both retired generals. Tillerson was a wise choice by President Trump, in view of his long experience in diplomacy as head of one of the largest oil companies in the world, Exxon. Operating in a medley of countries took a high degree of skill to escape problems related to differences in government and the laws, and whenever difficulties proved too much for others to manage, Tillerson was called in. The charm and attention to detail of the business executive almost always succeeded in ensuring an outcome favourable to the US petroleum company. This is precisely the quality prized by Trump, who sees Tillerson as a negotiator, who will be able to ensure that the US gain every last drop of advantage from a deal with any country. Of course, this is possible only if the suggestions made are such as to give benefits to the other side, else Tillerson would have failed, most notably with President Vladimir Putin, whose dedication to “Russia First” is as strong as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s to “India First”. Both Putin and Modi are nationalists, which is presumably a reason why they are friends. The US Secretary of State has revealed his views on India in several statements, all of which make clear that he shares President Trump’s determination to achieve a breakthrough on relations with India as profound as that reached between the US and China during the 1970s, as a consequence of President Richard Milhous Nixon and Chairman Mao Zedong agreeing to normalise ties after more than two decades of frost, including a long and destructive war between the two sides over Korea. The US is wary of any single power establishing dominance over Asia in a period where Washington itself is in retreat, and understands that a southern flank (India) is needed, together with the existing northern flank (Japan). The US has embraced the concept of the Indo-Pacific, recognising that the two water bodies form a seamless whole with common challenges and opportunities. Both to the west and to the east of India are challenges that are common to both India and the US; and it is this sharing of perceptions that has brought the two countries closer together than at any time in the past, except during the period when Franklin Delano Roosevelt as President of the US repeatedly nudged Prime Minister Winston Spencer Churchill of Great Britain to promise India its freedom after a war that London claimed was being fought in defence of liberty.
Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi brushed aside the past when he ignored the denial of a visa to him by both the Bush and the Obama administrations as a consequence of lobbying by religious groups out to characterise Gujarat as being ruled by fascist principles that discriminated against the minorities. Of course, neither Bush nor Obama ever thought of denying a visa to leaders from Pakistan, a country where the minority population (comprising Hindus and Christians) has slumped from 31% in 1947 to less than 2% last year. Nor did they do what was done to Modi in the case of the Chief Ministers of states such as UP, where several dozen members of the minority community were killed, in contrast to Gujarat, a state that for 13 years saw not a single death or even injury as a consequence of communal violence. Despite the injustice, once he was sworn in as PM on 26 May 2014, Modi made a visit to the US a priority, recognising the importance to India of a close relationship with the world’s most powerful democracy. Since then, under President Barack Obama and now Donald Trump, India-US relationship has flowered. This has been caused not by a desire for war, but to keep the peace. India has signed the first of three Foundation Agreements with the US in matters relating to the military, and it is expected that the other two may get finalised during President Trump’s expected visit to this country. Across the board, a collaborative relationship between the two sides is essential for the national interest of both countries, and it is expected that the Tillerson visit will provide an impetus for a boost in the level of cooperation, especially in the field of security. Both countries are the victims of terror and need to face this challenge together. Secretary Tillerson is a most welcome visitor, and much is expected from his visit.