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Trump ends mythical ‘strategic partnership’

Raja Murthy |

Spin doctors and governmental minions offering excuses of “scheduling constraints” cannot smother the rude reality behind US President Donald Trump rejecting the invitation to India’s Republic Day celebrations: the happy snub serves as last rite to bury the long-festering mirage of an Indo-US ‘strategic partnership’.

And so the maverick US president’s disrespectful diplomatic slap to India should be welcomed as a blessing – at least for those who defend India’s sovereign rights. So thank you, President Trump, for delivering the Republic Day snub, globally embarrassing your “great friend” Prime Minister Narendra Modi – and the country, India, with which you had often avowed a special “strategic partnership”.

You exposed more clearly the hollow relationship between the world’s two largest democracies, a partnership of empty words. In US terms, a strategic partnership means “you follow our strategy, or else….” This “you are with us, or against us” immaturity that governs US alliances may have been acceptable to an old world order, but not to a resurgent young India. In the evolving global order of powerhouse economies, India cannot be dependent on any country, nor have its foreign policy and interests dictated by a decaying super power or any external power.

By buying Russian missiles and desperately needed Iranian oil the Indian government has violated the American foreign policy bible where “ally” generally means “obedient slave to American interests”. And so India defying the latest unilateral U.S sanctions meant an exit ticket out of the list of countries ‘honoured’ with a Trump visit, a peculiar list that included Britain whose elected leaders and capital city took much trouble to put out for him the ‘you are not welcome’ mats. Ardent well-wishers and optimists like me believed President Trump would deliver a more pragmatic foreign policy, but optimism has to be tempered with realism.

The awakening dose of reality appears that whoever occupies the White House will arrogantly continue the self-centered hypocrisy of US governmental relationships with the world. In this overall US ‘strategic partnership’ text book and its bullying chapters of hypocrisy, it’s okay for President Trump to reject any U.S sanction against Saudi Arabia (for the Turkish embassy murder of a dissident Saudi journalist). “It’s like punishing oneself,” he said, dismissing any talk of halting his $150 billion arms sales to one of the most repressive regimes in the world.

But it’s not okay for an oil-starved India to not punish itself by obeying American diktats to stop buying much needed oil from Iran. No matter that the US-dictated sanctions against Iran have no United Nations approval. President Trump only more crudely carries forth his country’s long-standing hypocrisy with his “America First” motto: he expects the rest of the world to also put America first, other countries’ interests be damned. In history across decades, in practical, realistic terms, the US has never been a true friend to India.

A glaring instance continues to be the peculiar American ties to Pakistan, India’s neighbouring quasi-criminal, military-dominated state that defiantly continues being the world’s biggest state sponsor of cross-border terrorism in Kashmir. A false friend is more dangerous than a neighboring terrorist enemy.

And so President Trump’s Republic Day snub has to be welcomed as a gift of reality pointing to the US downgrading ties with India. Likewise, it’s wise for India to reduce to a bare essential minimum all ties with the US government, this false friend whose words and actions rarely match. India has to end the deluding myth of an Indo-US ‘strategic partnership’. Self-respecting leaders who do not worship money will minimize ties with the USA, a fading power that often spells its foreign policy as the Unilateral Sanctions of Arrogance.

The writer is a senior, Mumbai-based journalist.