UNITED NATIONS – It’s the season of love for India. At least, President Donald Trump would have us believe it to be so. What else can even fierce critics assume, going by his comments to External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, at the ongoing 73rd United Nations General Assembly meet here, in New York.
“I love India, give my regards to my friend PM (Narendra) Modi,” Trump reportedly told Swaraj, according to a PTI report, quoting unnamed Indian diplomatic sources, after the two were introduced by Nikki Haley, US Ambassador to the UN, on the sidelines of a counter-narcotics meet at the UN, on September 24. The meet was entitled ‘Counter Narcotics and Global Call to Action on World Drug Problem’.
There was no mistaking the warm, affectionate embrace shared by Haley and Swaraj though – who have met each other several times, including on Haley’s visit to India this summer, as Trump looked on.
Trump was not done with that. Trade is one thing, where he continues to lash out and lambast countries like India and China for taking ‘unfair advantage’, as he says, over the years, to America’s detriment. But it seems he does respect India for other initiatives.
The next day, on September 25, Trump in his address to the General Assembly, again focused his lens on India, praising the country for its measures to eradicate poverty.
“There is India, a free society (of) over a billion people, successfully lifting countless millions out of poverty and into the middle class,” Trump said.
India’s record in that respect has been quite impressive, even if it seems that the task is near impossible, given the countless millions who stay stuck in the vicious doldrums of poverty.
Results suggest otherwise though.
Between 2006 to 2016, as many as 271 million people were lifted out of poverty in India, with the country’s poverty rate plummeting from 55% to 28%.
Sabina Alkire, Director of the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, presenting the 2018 Multidimensional Poverty Index here, last week, pointed out that members of the Scheduled Tribes and Dalits in India saw the most progress in reducing the impact of poverty.
According to Alkire, Bihar remains the poorest state in India, but along with other high-poverty states – Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Chhatisgarh – had the fastest reduction in multi-dimensional poverty. However, in spite of the progress, these states still remain the poorest.
Trump seemed to hark back to his campaign speeches, when he talked about the future of nations, of making not just America, but every country, great again. India is clearly one of his role models in that respect, at least for developing nations.
“It is the question of what kind of world will we leave for our children and what kind of nation they will inherit,” he said, in his address to the General Assembly.
Trump’s love affair with India and mollycoddling with Modi is a bit dubious too, though.
There’s this little thing of a big invitation sent out to Trump over two months ago, to be the chief guest at India’s Republic Day meet, in 2019. It’s yet to be either accepted or rejected by the White House.
One can only wonder: what kind of love would it be for India, if Trump doesn’t go to India after being invited to be royalty at its premiere meet for world leaders?
Then there’s this frenetic, seemingly anti-legal immigration campaign launched by the Trump administration, which fairly or unfairly, seems to target Indian workers and families in America.
The work permits for spouses of H-1B visa workers will soon be abolished, likely beginning of January 2019 (the same month Trump will be feted by India if he decides to take up the invitation) , which will affect almost 100,000 skilled workers, mostly women from India, who are on an H-4 visa.
Swaraj has been having a hectic schedule at the UN. She met with several world leaders and her counterparts from other countries, including the Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Australia’s foreign minister Marise Payne, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Gambian President Adama Barrow and Singapore’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan.
Swaraj also attended the Nelson Mandela Peace Summit, on the sidelines of the General Assembly. Her appearance and speech at the meet was symbolic too, given recent terrorist attacks by Pakistan, and India’s refusal to have Swaraj meet with her Pakistani counterpart for talks here.
“Nelson Mandela’s life is an inspiration for all. He showed fearlessness and courage in the face of discrimination and adversity,” Swaraj said at the summit, held on September 24. “India cherishes its special relationship and longstanding partnership with Africa and its people. Our close bonds are reflected in the philosophy of Mandela and Gandhi,” she added.
Even as the General Assembly was going full blast, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio made some pointed comments at the opening plenary of the World Economic Development Impact summit, which India would be wise to heed to.
Talking on achieving sustainable development goals, de Blasio pointed out that in July, New York City became the first city on the planet to hold itself publically accountable for reporting progress to the UN.
“This is important because we are trying to set an example, not only to our own people, but to cities around the world. We should declare these goals, we should own them, we should live up to them. I’m very happy to say that Helsinki has just joined us in this effort and I’d like to ask all of you to urge the cities, the governments, in the cities that you live in to take on this challenge as well – to put the goals out publically and live up to them,” he added.
(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: email@example.com Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)