Ahmedabad is getting all dressed up to receive US President Donald Trump and his wife Melania on February 24-25. It will be Prime Minister Modi’s triumph to play host to the couple. Since 2014, Ahmedabad has hosted many world leaders such as Chinese President Xi Jinping, Prime Ministers of Japan and Israel, Shinzo Abe and Benjamin Netanyahu respectively, on their visits to the country.
Trump seems excited about a dramatic reception. “We will have five to seven million people just from the airport to the new stadium. And you know it is the largest stadium in the world. (They are) building it now. It’s almost complete and it’s the largest in the world,” Trump said. The ‘Kem Chh’o Trump event, is the continuation of the historic “Howdy Modi’rally in Boston last September.
Both leaders love this pomp and show. The timing of the visit is quite significant. For the past few months both leaders were busy dealing with domestic problems. Trump was facing his impeachment while Modi faces the challenge of economic slow down. After the Citizenship Amendment Act, there are street protests and public outcry, which are continuing. His party just lost the small state of Delhi, six months after Modi’s impressive win in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
There is also some dent in his international image on account of CAA and abrogation of Article 370. The muchhyped visit provides some relief to both in dealing with their domestic and international concerns. The visit will also provide an opportunity to bolster each other in different ways. Trump has come to India when his popularity is at its highest with a 49 per cent approval rating and he is much ahead in the presidential race after his impeachment acquittal.
Events like ‘Kem Cho’o Trump’and ‘Howdy Modi ‘might be helpful in pulling some floating Indian-American voters towards the Republican. The visit will also benefit Modi. That Trump, who is facing the presidential polls in November, has chosen to visit India now boosts the stock of the Prime Minister. Standing beside Trump at a massive rally in Ahmedabad, his safe zone, will certainly boost him politically. It would also be seen as an endorsement of Modi’s recent controversial polices if Trump does not raise Kashmir.
Above all, despite differences in some areas like Pakistan, Kashmir, Afghanistan and Iran, teaming up with the US helps India. Both Washington and New Delhi expect the visit to further strengthen the strategic partnership, trade ties and facilitate review of bilateral ties. Defence, energy, medical devices and agriculture are among the items said to be on the table. The US is looking for more business in India and wants to use India as a counter-weight to China. It is seeking other deliverables like cooperation in Indo-Pacific convergence etc.
The main outcome could be a limited trade deal. India is demanding exemption from high duties imposed by the US on certain steel and aluminium products and resumption of export benefits to certain domestic products under their Generalized System of Preferences (GSP). The US, on the other hand, wants greater market access for its farm and manufacturing products and cut on import duties on some ICT products. Trump also expressed concerns about the high trade deficit.
“They (Indians) want to do something and we’ll see… if we can make the right deal, (we) will do it,” Trump said ahead of his first visit to India. The visit is more about economics and strategic issues than politics. In the run-up to the visit, the US has cleared the sale of a missile shield worth $1.86 billion to India. A $10-billion trade deal is also being negotiated. Ahead of the visit, New Delhi might approve a $2.6 billion deal for military helicopters from Lockheed Martin Corp.
Indian Navy might place an order for 24 MH-60R Seahawk helicopters. As usual, there is already some reaction to the Trump visit. Recently, four bipartisan US senators in their letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have sought an assessment of the human rights situation in Kashmir and religious freedom in the country. Some American officials have called for sanctions, and the European Union is considering half a dozen resolutions in its Parliament.
In India, the CPI-I (M) is planning protests during the visit. Apart from the optics, hugs, smiles and waves, the Trump visit will be the next step in the ties between India and the US. A US official has said that the two leaders will outline an ambitious vision for the next chapter of the “natural alliance.”
New Delhi must seize the momentum of the visit. Politically both leaders have grasped the situation that it also provides them domestic dividends. So it is a win-win situation for both if they grab the opportunity. Both politicians are right-wingleaning and promote nationalist policies, but they face very different situations in their countries. Both lead right wing parties. Both politicians are right-wingleaning and promote nationalist policies, but they face very different situations in their countries.