NEW YORK – Days after the United States recognized India in its National Security Strategy as a ‘Major Defense Partner’, India decided not to abstain, like 35 countries did – including Canada and Australia, but to vote in favor of a resolution brought by Turkey and Yemen in the United Nations, opposing President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Trump’s ego, no doubt, is badly bruised.
Before the vote, he sent out an overt warning to countries contemplating to oppose him and his agenda, through his UN envoy Nikki Haley: “As you consider your vote, I want you to know that the President and U.S. take this vote personally,” Haley wrote in an email, obtained by Foreign Policy. “The President will be watching this vote carefully and has requested I report back on those countries who voted against us. We will take note of each and every vote on this issue.”
India, however, despite the growing business and geopolitical chumminess with the US – which they well recognize as a counter to China’s ambitions in Asia and beyond, stuck to its steadfast diplomatic decision on Jerusalem, mindful of its vast business and economic interests in the 57 member countries of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
The bet is also that the newly formed quartet of Australia-India-Japan-United States – again a snub to China’s opportunism in the region – would continue to grow in strength and purpose despite internal differences with the US, on West Asia.
India’s justifiable decision is also based on the calculation that Trump’s fixation on Jerusalem is an election rhetoric fulfilled. But it could be short-lived, come the 2020 elections, given the deeply divisive politics, and unpredictability that hovers today in America, despite a strong economy and tax cuts to benefit businesses and individuals.
Importantly, it’s also India’s way to indicate their growing displeasure to Trump.
India wants Trump to know that barring defence deals – more beneficial to the US, at the cost of Russia – the US has constantly come down hard on India, shown a devious carrot and stick diplomatic approach, which they are beginning to resent.
Trump has smartly tapped into Modi’s eagerness to strengthen India’s armed forces, and the allocation of $53.5 billion budget for it. In the recent past, India signed a deal worth Rs. 5,000 crore with the US for 145 M777 ultra-light howitzers. Lockheed Martin Corp. has tied up with Tata Advanced Systems Ltd. to bid for India’s $12-billion fighter jet deal.
India has mixed emotions about Trump’s position on Pakistan. Despite some hard talk by the US on Pakistan, the fact remains that one of the most wanted terrorists in the world, Hafiz Saeed, is walking around scot free, and partaking in the political process in Pakistan. The US has chosen to ignore India’s pleas on Saeed.
There are other growing irritants at play, regardless of the vote on Jerusalem.
Major case in point: the H-1B visa. Even as India have been beseeching for months for the work visa to be left alone, not meddled with, the US has gleefully gone about issuing rank protectionist measures to curb legal immigration, without even bothering to get a nod from Capitol Hill.
Realization has finally dawned that Trump doesn’t care two hoots for India’s concerns on the H-1B visa, despite all the goodwill between him and Modi, and growing bilateral relations. He doesn’t care for the likely drastic repercussions on India’s IT services sector.
“Our problem, which we have brought to their attention, is that you cannot and should not be doing things which discriminate against Indian companies even though you have not named them,” R Chandrashekhar, president of NASSCOM, was quoted as saying, on the H-1B visa issue, by The Economic Times. Lambasting the HR-170, The Protect and Grow American Jobs Act, which may likely become law soon, and raise the H-1B minimum salary to $90,000, he added: “We see this as clearly discriminatory because it affects only the large Indian companies and will have the effect of tilting the playing field against Indian companies.”
For decades now, India has been recognized as an important business partner by the US, so Trump has not really lifted the bar much higher. He has only stuck to that established legacy, while uplifting India through rhetoric more than previous administration, to strike and try curb China’s ambitions.
While Obama’s National Security Strategy of 2010 called India one of the “key centers of influence” in the 21st century, it was upgraded as “historic opportunities” between the two countries, in his 2015 vision. So, it’s dubious what ‘Major Defense Partner’ status under Trump really entails, since India was already one for the US during the previous two administrations.
It’s not only the issue of work visas, which is causing internal friction.
Earlier this week, the US decided to drag India to the World Trade Organization court, in its dispute over solar power, which will, no doubt, lead to fresh round of acrimonious litigation.
It remains to be seen how Trump will execute his vengeance on India for its vote on Jerusalem. But for now, all these small cuts, from the H-1B visa issue, to solar power, is creating slow but steady friction between the two largest democracies.
(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: sujeet@newsindiatimes Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)