Donald Trump and Narendra Modi: Mutual cheerleaders

‘Abki baar, Trump Sarkar’. That was the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi exhorting the 50,000-strong gathering of Indian-Americans at the Howdy Modi rally on Sunday in Houston, US, in the presence of the American President Donald Trump. Whether an Indian prime minister should have so openly weighed in an upcoming electoral battle in a foreign country would not have passed the test of conventional diplomacy. But neither Trump nor Modi is a conventional politician.

Both are go-getters and do not often allow squeamishness over precedent and form to come in the way of achieving current objectives. For Trump, politics is essentially transactional. Modi is willing to play along in the national interest. His objective right now is to ensure that the Pakistani hue and cry over the abrogation of special status of Jammu and Kashmir fails to get traction in the global forums, especially in the coming annual meeting of the UN General Assembly.

Trump, on his part, is ready to support India, especially when Pakistan has always two-timed it, misusing and misdirecting billions and huge gifts of armaments for arming America’s enemies, for instance, the Taliban, while supping with the rival superpower Chinese. Besides, a million-plus vote bank of generally well-to-do Indian-Americans needs to be wooed, given that re-election can be tough in view of his sliding popularity. From Trump’s point of view, attending the rally of Modi Bhakts made a lot of sense, but we think it was the Indian prime minister who went overboard acting as a cheer leader.

The US President returned the compliment by sitting all through his address to the rapturous audience. After the rather over-the-top show of bonhomie between the two leaders, Modi gratuitously invited Trump to do the ‘victory’ lap, waving and high-fiving the delirious crowds at the NRG Stadium in the energy capital of America. Modi took a calculated risk gambling on Trump’s re-election in 2020, but then Modi wouldn’t be Modi if he were to shy away from such ‘bold’ decisions. Of course, the rally was a huge success, testifying to the popularity of Modi with the NRIs wherever they might be.

The US President and a number of Senators and Representatives sitting in the vantage seats lapped up the words of the Indian Prime Minister while the latter frontally attacked Pakistan for its export of terror. This underlined the extent to which the two countries have found convergence vis-à-vis what an earlier American President had called ‘the most dangerous place in the world.’ Pakistan was clearly on Trump’s mind when he said India and the US were jointly fighting ‘radical Islamic terrorism.’ Such congruence of views between the US and India can hardly be music to the Pakistani ears.

Modi speaking at length after Trump’s short speech was more explicit in hauling Pakistan over the coals without actually naming it even once. “People who can barely manage their country object to what has happened in India,” a reference to the deletion of Article 370. The Prime Minster left no one in doubt that Pakistan was the fount of global terror, accusing it of masterminding the 9/11 Twin Towers attack in New York and the 26/11 Mumbai attack.

A highly partisan crowd cheered every word of Modi but the thing to notice is that the Indian Prime Minister got away condemning a third nation with which the US still has ‘friendly’ ties in the presence of the President and senior members of the Congress. In other words, America under Trump has come far to support India, partly because it has realized that Pakistan is untrustworthy and partly because of the growing ambitions of an increasingly arbitrary China to change the current world order.

Challenging the US supremacy both economically and militarily has made the US security establishment relook at India as a most likely ally in their commitment to retain their numero uno position as a global superpower. India has also shed some of the hesitancy that had informed the foreign policy under the UPA and now makes no bones of strengthening its armed forces against a potential threat from China while teaming up with other nations to counter China.

The revival of the Quadrilateral grouping of the US, Australia, Japan and India, and its upgrading to the level of foreign ministers is a pointer. By all accounts, the Houston show in support for Modi ticked a number of boxes, none more significant than pushing the leader of the world’s most powerful nation smack in the Indian corner. Pakistan, already feeling frustrated at the lack of global support after the Indians wiped out Kashmir’s special status, has reason to feel very angry-and very helpless.

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