The White House spokesperson’s recent observation that President Donald Trump has not yet responded to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s invitation to him to preside over the high-profile Republic Day parade event on January 26 sums up the chill that characterises Indo-US relations today. It reflects the low priority that Trump attaches to India that he has not thought it fit to visit this country in his first year in office. But it is not Modi alone that Trump is apparently dismissive of. German Chancellor Angelo Merkel and Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau have had a taste of Trump’s arrogance and lack of courtesies and so have Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and even Queen Elizabeth for meeting whom Trump arrived late. Within the US, Trump has acquired the reputation of firing key officials at the drop of a hat on grounds that sound patently flimsy. In his initial days in office he bad-mouthed his suave predecessor, Barack Obama, and rubbished his policies in a high-handed way. His trade policies have angered China no end and his repudiation of the Paris climate accord and the nuclear deal with Iran have caused much consternation.
Prime Minister Modi who makes special effort to build up personal equations with colleagues on the international stage has had some rude shocks with Trump. Sometime ago, while referring to Modi’s phone call informing him of the decision to reduce the import duty on the American Harley-Davidson motorbike by 50 per cent (on Trump’s suggestion that it be slashed) and calling him sarcastically a “beautiful and fantastic man” Trump mimicked Modi and made it abundantly clear that he wasn’t truly “thrilled”. The President went so far as to mock Modi before a distinguished audience on this petty issue which involved a mere 3,700 bikes from the US. While there is no overt Modi reaction to Trump’s misdemeanours, his angst has been visible in the way Modi has gone about forging new links with Russia and to an extent even China on bilateral and international platforms. The inexplicably postponed visit of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary James Mattis to New Delhi is due soon (possibly in September) for the first India-US 2+2 dialogue with their Indian counterparts External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. That it was put off without a credible explanation from the US side soured the pitch to an extent. Much would now depend on how Trump responds to Modi’s invite and how the 2+2 dialogue proceeds.