NEW YORK – Donald Trump probably wants a sequel to the blockbuster ‘Howdy Modi!’ event in Texas. The President seemed mesmerized by cacophony of adulation from tens of thousands of cheering fans at the NRG Stadium in Houston, which resounded worldwide. So, months later, he’s now planning a visit to India, hoping for a bigger stage, larger crowds, more sensational news coverage than ever before. What better than a spectacle of that kind to bamboozle voters back home and kick off a re-election year!
The Associated Press reported this week that Trump is in the early stages of planning what would be his first visit to India, according to sources in the US and Indian governments. The trip is likely toward the end of February, after the conclusion of his impeachment trial in the US Senate.
Trump and Modi exchanged New Year’s greetings in a January 6 telephone call. A White House statement at the time made no mention of Trump’s interest in visiting India, the report said.
Trump’s enduring friendship with Modi began during their first White House meeting in June 2017, where the Indian Prime Minister bear-hugged Trump several times following a joint news conference in the Rose Garden. And then last September, Trump traveled to that mega rally in Houston to speak for Modi before an audience of more than 50,000 Indian Americans.
Several days after that Texas event, Trump suggested – as he and Modi met in New York during the UN General Assembly – that the Prime Minister be known as the “Father of India” because of his success uniting the nation, noted AP.
A Reuters report said Modi had previously invited Trump to attend India’s annual Republic Day parade scheduled later this month, but that invite was declined because US officials said it would clash with the president’s State of the Union address. A Times of India report also put in a theory of Delhi’s pollution being a deterrent for the finicky President.
A source told Reuters that Trump could come in the second half of February and that he may visit a second city besides New Delhi.
Thorny Issues of trade and tariffs is likely to figure but not dominate headlines during Trump’s visit to India – if it indeed comes to fruition.
Both India and the US would be keen to project a beautiful relationship culminating in a win-win for both sides. It would help Trump’s image soar as a more mature and pragmatic world leader, making critical ties to America’s advantage.
It would also burnish Modi’s credentials as a charismatic leader whose controversial moves, even if considered incendiary by opposition parties, are looked upon favorably, if not tolerated, by the most powerful country in the world. It would also help draw more FDI and investment to India from American companies.
Not to mention the fact that Trump has been really particular in which country he sets foot in during his first term in the White House. Unlike his predecessor Barack Obama who made several trips and reached out with friendly overtures, Trump has been wary of traveling to neighboring countries. He’s visited Canada only once; ignored Mexico totally.
Since he assumed office, Trump has made 17 international trips to 23 countries (and also the West Bank). He’s made a visit each to Afghanistan, Argentina, Canada, China, Finland, Iraq, Israel, North Korea, Philippines, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Switzerland, Vatican City and the West Bank. He’s made two visits to Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Italy, South Korea, and Vietnam. And three visits to Japan and the United Kingdom. France is the country he’s visited the most, with a whopping four times.
This year, Trump is scheduled to visit Davos later this month for the World Economic Forum, and in Fall, in the months of October and November, he’s set to visit the ASEAN and APEC summits in Vietnam and Malaysia, respectively.
In comparison, Obama visited New Delhi twice during his time in office, first in 2010 and again in 2015, when he participated in India’s annual Republic Day celebrations.
Outstanding issues between India and the US, especially on tariffs, are more likely to creep in once the brouhaha of the bonding between Trump and Modi during the proposed visit to India dies down.
The New Indian Express reported that India and the US have thrashed out the contours of a trade pact to be signed during Trump’s visit next month, which will see India agreeing to cut duties on more than 40 product categories from the US ranging from apples, almonds, up-end mobiles, smart-watches and electronic gadgets in return for the US allowing Indian manufactures duty-free trade facilities withdrawn last year.
While going ahead with the deal, India is stalling in allowing US dairy products entry by taking the line that while it is open to dairy imports, they have to confirm to restrictions on their not being fed animal food matter, the Express report said.
Officials said that while duty on US manufactured medical devices could be brought down as part of the `peace formula’, India was sticking to its stand that given the huge numbers of poor patients in India, price caps would continue. The US had termed India’s price caps on heart stents and other medical devices to be discriminatory trade practices, the report added.
While the final outcome of a trade deal remains to be seen, for Trump, the timing of a book that details rhetoric from a past meeting with him and Modi, is an embarrassment.
‘A Very Stable Genius’, by Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig, quotes a source saying, how Trump, while talking to Modi on China, said, “It’s not like you’ve got China on your border.” Modi’s eyes reportedly “bulged out in surprise” after that, the book notes.
“Modi’s expression gradually shifted, from shock and concern to resignation,” they continue, adding that one Trump aide concludes Modi likely “left that meeting and said, ‘This is not a serious man. I cannot count on this man as a partner.’”
After the meeting, the source explained to the authors, “‘the Indians took a step back’ in their diplomatic relations with the United States.”
Now, contrary to that narrative, the US and India seem set to take a step forward in their diplomatic and business relations.
(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)