Finally called ‘Namaste Trump’, the event was originally going to be called ‘Kem Chho Trump’. Perhaps there were budgetary issues cropping up and calculated at INR 125 – 180 crore priced event, it would have been a burden solely on Gujarat government to foot the entire bill. Or else Modi would have looked pushing the Gujarati card on to the rest of India while the Trumps were in Agra or Delhi.
Leaving the political semantics aside, ‘Namaste Trump’ or the Trump visit to India was quite an event. Looking at the delivery of it and the extravagance witnessed, there is no doubt the Indian Government rigorously prepared for it. The humongous amount of money (estimates suggest INR 125-180 Crore) spent begs the question whether it is value for money for India as a nation. The opinion is divided – with one side claiming to carry ‘the responsible economics and nationalist agenda’ see this as an investment into international diplomacy and India’s global stature building exercise. The other side of course will see it merely in money terms and question spending that kind of money on welcoming a state head who delivered nothing for India other than merely extending gestures of some further discussions and meetings aimed at better cooperation on security of the two nations. They would emphasise the fact that Donald Trump has been very protective of his own interests of the United States from day one in office and thus how could Modi 2.0 expect him to deliver anything for India?
For that, let us first examine any possible agendas that the two leaders could have had on the precise timing of it and if there was any advantage the two or either of them could extract. For Modi, it could be multi-pronged – first, reciprocating for ‘Howdy Modi’ in Texas which Trump would see as some help in consolidating Gujarati/Indian vote for his re-election later in the year. Secondly, the long protracted Shaheen Bagh – symbolic of India’s rejection of his CAA 2019, could be blurred into oblivion with Trump visit grabbing the headlines. Thirdly and finally, the Trumps in India would take some shine away from the gains of AAP and the sting in the drubbing Modi’s party was meted out in Delhi elections. That would be a bonus for them as admittedly it could not have been foreseen at the time of planning. These issues were seminal for any political observer who would see Modi hoping to gain for himself and the party from the investment in hosting the Trumps India was making. Needless to say this was in addition to what India would hope to gain internationally – in countering Pakistani noises and Chinese muscle power in international forums.
It is obvious, the domestic politics would have been as important on Modi advisors’ mind – who have been startled by the Indian voter in various state elections ever since Modi 2.0. One after the other, Modi 2.0’s attempted provincial and state extensions have been rejected while also maintaining a total rejection of the Congress party’s central leadership. The voter has been quite circumspect in navigating the political landscape and the party head honchos have been scratching their heads in what to do. In such a scenario – particularly – a day after the swearing-in of Arvind kejriwal who had returned with a thumping majority of 62 to BJP’s 8 seats in Delhi Assembly, ‘Namaste Trump’ would have been a welcome breather for Modi, Shah and their minders.
The question of any international gain is germane to the question whether India can fully trust the US (under Trump and otherwise) and choose to trade off a small portion of its Indo-Soviet position. In the emerging new global polity, old combinations are compelling for re-definitions and revaluations with continuing evolution every minute of the day.
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For Trump of course, it is the election year and he is seeking re-election later in the year. For him any vote gain is a bonus. Clearly with this 36-hour whirlwind visit, Trump not only took home the booty of many India/Gujarati American votes but also a sizeable US$ 3 billion addition to the US coffers with the sale of American Military Helicopters to India. Even the meanest of assessments by his rivals, Trump’s India visit cannot be a negative for him or the US – so a definite win for Trump and the US.
For Modi, ‘Namaste Trump’ turned out to be a mixed bag, royally spoilt by his own party leaders delivering hate speeches and the ensuing violence which claimed more than 46 lives. The headlines and the main talk shows – spoke only of violence in Delhi and Trump visit got buried into oblivion in no time. International headlines turned away from Trump visit and condemned India and Modi’s alleged designs to turn India into a Hindutva state.
For Modi, it will be another day to see if the writing of the hoardings of ‘Namaste Trump’ was meaningful. For India as a nation – it remains to be seen as Trump is only predictable when it comes to his personal interest and the interests of the US. Everything else is – never given. So for Indians it would not be impertinent to ask after all – Kem Chho Modi?
On a side note the Trump’s India visit could be seen as a positive for Australia as he – in his discussions on security engagements of the US re-iterated America’s participation and commitment to continue to work on the Quadrilateral Security co-operation or ‘the Quad’ for the four countries – India, Australia Japan and the US. Depending on Australia’s intent which relegated its effort a bit under Kevin Rudd by staying away from joint security exercises with India, observers will monitor Australian government’s actions if they want to utilize this ‘ample opportunity’ offered by the US through ‘Namaste Trump’, to further cement their friendship and ties with India.