NEW YORK – As India works fervently to cleanse the river Yamuna of a foul smell near the Taj Mahal – the environs of which is being washed and scrubbed clean as much as possible, and beautification work goes on elsewhere on an Olympic scale in Ahmedabad and New Delhi, ahead of President Trump’s visit to India next week, the one lingering worry Indian officials, including Prime Minister Modi himself is likely to have, is: will a tweet emerge in the dead of night offering mediation in Kashmir.
Trump didn’t know in the past that India shares a border with China, as Washington Post journalists Phillip Rucker and Carol Leonning revealed in their book ‘A Very Stable Genius’, but he certainly knows what the ‘K’ word is after chit chats with PM Imran Khan on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly and Davos.
As Modi and Trump have gotten personally closer, from bear hugs in the White House, to holding hands aloft at the NRG Stadium in Houston, despite all the ticklish trade and tariff issues, the most vexatious part for India in recent months has been how to muzzle Trump from uttering the ‘K’ word.
Which Trump does puzzlingly quite frequently. Pointedly.
Maybe it’s Trump’s way of signaling to Modi, like those mysterious FRBs coming at regular intervals from deep space: despite all the bonhomie between us, don’t mess with me on trade issues. Or I know how to mess with you: K-A-S-H-M-I-R.
India can only hope that Trump and his family entourage, comprising of wife Melania, daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, thoroughly enjoy the colorful and historic sights in the two days they are there, feel mesmerized, jubilant, and loved in the midst of hundreds of thousands of cheering crowd, eat lots of mithai (ice cream for the President), and sleep well. Even do some dandiya.
India’s high hope would be: please, pretty please, Mr. President, don’t wake up in the middle of the night and get the brilliant idea to type out a damning tweet offering to mediate and put to bed the Kashmir issue, all in an hour before you depart for America. Please, we even released 17 million liters of water into the Yamuna to vamoose the stink. Don’t make us shed gallons of tears after all our hospitality, by uttering the ‘K’ word.
Trump has been playing his cards well though, on the eve of his visit, keeping India on tenterhooks. One of his recent comments: “They’ve been hitting us very hard for many, many years (on trade issues),” adding quickly, “I really like Prime Minister Modi.”
Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, was quoted by The New York Times, saying, of Trump’s stance towards India: “There are more questions in the last six months about India’s commitment to democracy, than we’ve really seen in the history of the U.S.-Indian relationship. The good news for India is that the last person in the world likely to raise any of these issues is Donald Trump.”
India would hope so.
Trump would be heartened by a new study put out by the Pew Research Center this week, that says he is as popular in India, as his predecessor Barack Obama.
The study says that a majority of Indians have confidence in Trump to do the right thing when it comes to world affairs. Trump’s image in India has gained favor since his candidacy in 2016, jumping from 14% confidence to 56% over three years. Much of this movement is accompanied by more people now offering an opinion about the U.S. president. The share volunteering a response of “don’t know” or declining to answer has fallen precipitously over the same period, from 67% in 2016 to just 30% in 2019.
Meanwhile, the small share of those saying they lack confidence in Trump when it comes to foreign policy has remained stable. These latest numbers resemble those of Obama before he left office: 58% of Indians had confidence in him in world affairs, while 9% had no confidence and 33% did not offer an opinion.
The study also analyzed that those who associate more with the Bharatiya Janata Party are more likely than supporters of the Indian National Congress to voice confidence in Trump.
Highlights from the Pew study include the fact that despite Indians liking Trump more over the years, when asked about views of his policy on increasing tariffs or fees on imported goods from other countries, about half (48%) say they disapprove. U.S.-Indian relations, though, are held in high regard among Indian adults, with about three-quarters saying current relations overall as well as economic ties are good between the two nations.
When asked about how the U.S. and China are influencing India’s economy, another clear split appears, the study reveals. Similar proportions of Indians say that the U.S. and China exert at least some influence on their economic situation (69% vs. 62%, respectively). But when asked whether that influence is good or bad, nearly opposite opinions are held, with about two-thirds saying U.S. influence is good, but the same percentage asserting that Chinese influence is bad for the Indian economy.
(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: firstname.lastname@example.org follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)