Indo-US ties have begun to bloom under the Trump administration

Members of Hindu Sena, a right-wing Hindu group, place a garland on an poster of U.S President-elect Donald Trump ahead of his inauguration, in New Delhi, January 19, 2017. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton/Files

NEW YORK: The Spring Equinox is over a month away, but Indo-US ties have started to bloom under the Trump administration. While there’s been no extravagant show of joie de vivre between officials from the two countries, apart from three phone conversations at the highest level where niceties abounded, what India has done impeccably and impressively well is to refrain from reacting to rumors of impending executive actions from the White House, including targeting IT service companies and foreign workers on a visa.

China took the path of outright confrontation, with President Xi Jinping agreeing to a phone conversation with President Donald Trump only after ‘One China’ policy was uttered by the US. India, on the other hand, has been measured and calculated in its approach. The steadfast mantra since Trump assumed office on January 20th seems to be on the lines of what Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar expressed at the Gateway Dialogue in Mumbai: “Don’t demonize Trump. Analyze Trump. He represents a thought process. It’s not a momentary expression.”

It’s evident from statements by several top ministers, including IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, that some words in private have been exchanged on vexatious issues, like protectionism regarding H-1B visas. India’s official spokespersons have been cautious in not lambasting Trump or his new administration, despite even the stock market in India taking a hit on worries of losses for India’s IT companies. India has shown excellent diplomacy in handling the incessant vitriol against Trump pre-and-post elevation to the White House.

Trump too has shown respect for India and Indian Americans. Not only did he embrace warmly an event held for him by the Republican Hindu Coalition, in New Jersey, where he said, “I am a big fan of Hindu”, he never criticized India or took any of India’s IT service companies by name for loss of American jobs, even during late night twitter rants. He’s also taken a number of top Indian Americans in his administration, including the former Governor of North Carolina Nikki Haley – who, unlike former Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, has proudly flaunted her Indian roots and heritage.

Some other top Indian Americans in the Trump administration include Seema Verma, whose hearing got underway for the job of handling Medicaid and Medicare, Ajit Pai, the head of the Federal Communications Commission, Preet Bharara, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Raj Shah, the Deputy Director of the White House Communications team, and Uttam Dhillon, who is part of the White House legal team with oversight over compliance and ethics matters. It’s another matter that Trump’s most trusted adviser and his son-in-law Jared Kushner’s best friend is an Indian American.

This week itself there have been several interesting interactions between top Indian and US officials and legislators. India’s external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj spoke to her counterpart, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, on phone. The Indian Ambassador to the US Navtej Sarna held a Congressional Reception on Capitol Hill where several members of Congress attended and spoke at the event, extolling India-US ties.

Next week, a whopping 27 members of the US House of Representatives will visit India, to tour several cities. This will be a record for the largest number of Congressmen in India on one visit, beating a delegation of 21 lawmakers who traveled to India three years ago. The interactions in India will go a long way in furthering bilateral ties, soothe frayed nerves on the business front. President Barack Obama had set the tone after two visits to India during his two terms in office. It would also pave the way for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to visit Washington later this year, and Trump to reciprocate with a trip to India, a country he’s familiar with through his business dealings.

It’s also heartening for India’s IT sector that Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Republican from Utah who has interacted with Trump several times recently, has strongly supported the H-1B visa program, to reform it, increase the visa cap, ease the process of Green Cards for foreign workers, in a speech he made on Capitol Hill, while unveiling an Innovative Agenda. Hatch’s speech came as a relief to both Indian IT and Indian workers on a visa, after a couple of weeks where the H-1B visa program and foreign workers have been attacked incessantly by anti-immigration advocates and legislators.

Hatch’s proposals sound refreshing and positive. His agenda is more in line with Trump’s vow to ‘Make America Great Again.’

(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)