India faces set of ‘unknown unknowns’ with Donald Trump’s presidency

Instead of the easy familiarity that Hillary Clinton would have brought to India-United States ties had she become President, New Delhi is now faced with a set of “unknown unknowns” with a Trump presidency.

Written by Nirupama Subramanian | Published:November 9, 2016 8:49 pm
donald trump, trump, us presidential elections, stock markets, trump stock markets, global stock markets, business news, world news Republican US president-elect Donald Trump speaks at his election night rally in Manhattan, New York, November 9, 2016. (Reuters)

The victory of Donald Trump saw Prime Minister Narendra Modi quick off the block with tweets congratulating the 45th-President elect of the United States, hailing “the friendship you have articulated towards India during your campaign”, and looking forward to “working with you closely to take India-US ties to a new height”.

But what does India really know about Trump’s idea of India, or India-US relations. The truth is, very little. Instead of the easy familiarity that Hillary Clinton would have brought to India-United States ties had she become President, New Delhi is now faced with a set of “unknown unknowns” with a Trump presidency.

Indeed, figuring out these imponderables is the first challenge for India’s policy makers as they scramble to adjust to the new power structures in Washington DC.

For instance, Trump’s views on the most important achievement of India-US ties in the last 15 years, the India-US civilian nuclear deal, are a complete unknown. It is not clear if he knows other details about the complex and difficult relationships in South Asia. All there is right now is a set of random, sweeping broad brush statements made by Trump, adding up to nothing that resembles knowledge, or a policy on India, or a policy on the region.

Here’s a list, in no particular order:

In campaign speeches, while talking about making “America First Again”, he promised that he would end US companies hiring non-Americans. “They are taking our jobs. China is taking our jobs. Japan is taking our jobs. India is taking our jobs. It is not going to happen anymore, folks!”, he said. “”I am not going to let companies move to other countries, firing their employees along the way, without consequence”

He also promised a country that would be focused on itself, not the world. “Americanism, not globalism will be our credo,” he said.

In an interview in 2007, that has been cited for Trump’s “positive” views about India, he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer: “India is doing great. Nobody talks about it.” He said this while commenting on how the Indian and Chinese economies were leaving the US behind.

Read Also: Trump as President: Today, the world really has changed

But what has really endeared him to the Indians who see under the BJP and the leadership of Prime Minister Modi a stronger, muscular India in South Asia, are his Islamophobic views, his comments equating Muslims with terrorists, his remarks on India as a “check” to Pakistan, and his professed dislike of China, all of which mirror their own views about Islam and Muslims, and China, and the desire to “put Pakistan in its place”.

In an interview three months ago, he called Pakistan “probably the most dangerous country in the world today”, and went on to say: “India is the check to Pakistan…You have to get India involved … They have their own nukes and have a very powerful army. They seem to be the real check … I think we have to deal very closely with India to deal with it (Pakistan).”.

An Indian-American industrialist Shalabh Kumar, who also heads the Hindu Republican Coalition, was one of the biggest donors to the Trump campaign, giving $1.1 million to the man he believes will be the “most pro-India President since the birth of the US”, and will cut off funding for Pakistan.

For his part, Trump too courted the Indian community in the US. At a Republican Hindu event whose theme was “Humanity against Terror” last month, he said if he was elected, the Indian and Hindu communities would have “a big friend in the White House” and declared that “I love Hindu”. Most Indian community voters in the US are Democrats, and were appalled that Trump equated India with Hindu, but Hindu outfits in India beamed with pride.

It is easy to conclude from the little that is in the public domain that the Trump presidency will be protectionist on the economic front (therefore anti-movement of skilled labour, and thus “anti-India”), and on foreign relations, “pro-India”, “pro-Hindu”, and “anti-Pakistan”, in South Asia.

But notwithstanding Trump’s black and white vision of the world, the US economy is not an island. A large part of making “America first” will necessarily have to flow from securing US global economic interests, which cannot be delinked from foreign policy goals. Former US Administrations have secured American interests by cutting deals through give and take, whether with China or other countries. In India’s case, these deals have involved hard nosed bargaining by both sides – on trade and investments, defence deals, access to markets, intellectual property rights, visas and every other aspect of the “strategic” relationship.

Trump’s readiness to outsource a “check” on Pakistan to India has got some Indians hoping for a South Asian geopolitical dividend from this US election, though what Trump himself meant by his remark is yet another “unknown unknown”. But most clear headed strategic thinkers in India know that the uncertainty in Afghanistan, continuing hostile relations between South Asia’s two big neighbours, or the other side of this coin, Hindu supremacist tendencies in India, cannot make this country the economic or geopolitical superpower that it aspires to become. Nor can enmity with China

In so much as a US President brings a personal stamp to economic and foreign policy, Trump’s limited understanding and experience of the world could have an impact, as will his abrasive personality – which is built on a “my way-or-the-highway” philosophy. But the consolation is that the US Administration that he heads will be run by an experienced Republican machinery, and it is probably already clicking into place. What will tell us more about Trump’s foreign policy, will be his choice of Secretary of State, National Security Adviser, Defense Secretary, Secretary for Commerce among other key appointments.

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  1. K
    Kar Biswa
    Dec 4, 2016 at 3:10 pm
    I am really happy with Trump victory. Because he is going to bring some changes in America. So everybody must give him hands. He is going to deport immigrants people like Maxican, Indian and others.that is good. Because this country is made up by white and black people of America.
    1. M
      Nov 9, 2016 at 7:01 pm
      Now presutes also started having constipation!
      1. A
        Abhishek Paithankar
        Nov 11, 2016 at 3:19 pm
        All the best Trump Saheb, you have emerged like Shri.Modi Saheb, first ban all software engineers and bill gates from paying multi billion ries to such persons, who without any hardships get billions, instead make such engineers work 12 hours then they will come to know what is hardship
        1. A
          Abhishek Paithankar
          Nov 11, 2016 at 3:21 pm
          We all support trump and republican party ,then Islam lover Obama and democrats, just blast entire stan
          1. P
            Nov 9, 2016 at 6:24 pm
            This is the worst piece of garbage I read from a presute. No wonder these pressute got all wrong with Trump winning.
            1. B
              Nov 9, 2016 at 5:49 pm
              Brahmin American Foundation(HAF) is throwing a g party this weekend. All brahmins are invited. They are advised to wear /Proud Hindu/T-shirts though it will obviously be a brahmin party, just to fool people.
              1. G
                Gopal kumar
                Nov 14, 2016 at 10:57 am
                No doubt new president of USA is patriotic. He is filled with nationalistic idea. He know how globalisation has affected his own country by isolating native American from economic development. Author has rightly pointed out one fact that on the econimic front Donald Trump's foreign policy will be first consider his own countrymen. But strategically he will ally with india against terrorism which will isolate stan greatly. Mr. Trump also know that his economy can't grow alone because largest immigrant's are indian and every sector is full with indian. Definitely jobs will reduce for indian but Trump can not isolate himself from effect of globalisation. One thing is clear from the result of presidential election, globalisation is playing very important role in deciding the result of world politics.
                1. R
                  Nov 9, 2016 at 11:32 pm
                  Trump is far better to India than crooked Hillary who dances to the tune of islamists. She blocked modi visa and her right hand Huma Abedin is a stani. Hillary would have been a disaster.
                  1. D
                    Nov 9, 2016 at 5:24 pm
                    This writer is talking ribbish. Flawed logic from the Nehruvian past. India has moved on. Nobody gives nothing free. US sees India as a valuable partner. And what's wrong if he says he likes Hindus. Get a life lady.
                    1. R
                      Rohit Chandavarker
                      Nov 9, 2016 at 7:00 pm
                      There is a potential opportunity in a set of 'unknown unknowns'. The relatively clean slate that he brings to the office might make India's task cautiously optimistic. lt;br/gt;There are striking similarities between Modi's ascension to power and Trump's. Both exude a sense of purpose, maverick and out of the box thinking, often anti-establishment and importantly, people loved to hate. Both won unbelievable contests and relative novices in the corridors of diplomatic power. lt;br/gt;Modi's world view in 2014 was unknown much like Trump today. Hence one might give some leeway to Trump before commenting and analysing. lt;br/gt;As far as Trump's vision goes, going by his utterances, US is likely to become inward looking and distance itself from the globalisation efforts. His dislike for multilateral trade agreements as well as free trade policies is likely to shake up global trade. 'America First' is a slogan to ameliorate the lives of average middle cl Whites. This would be possible if he pushes for an industrial revolution within US to boost jobs and;br/gt;However, global leaders would be aghast if the US retrenched its role in world affairs leaving the stage open for Russia and China to fill the vacuum. The GOP is unlikely to digest this development given their deep antipathy for Russia and Trump's dislike for;br/gt;India might consider a more activist role on the world stage by initiating a process of trilateral dialogue between US, Russia and itself though these are early days yet. But a continuous trilateral dialogue would enable India to engage closely with the big powers as well as provide for containment of China on the world stage. lt;br/gt;Trump has expressed himself against China on economic issues and this might hurt China over the longer term. A slowing economy coupled with uncomfortable debt burden and a shrinking export market is a recipe for trouble for Beijing. lt;br/gt;Hence, India can engage positively with the Trump administration for mutual benefit.
                      1. U
                        Nov 9, 2016 at 9:52 pm
                        a set of “unknown unknowns”
                        1. S
                          Nov 9, 2016 at 8:10 pm
                          lol... Kyon phat gai na??This is what you write when you carry a chip on your shoulder and look everything from tinted gles. Liberals are the most biased, racist and dogmatic people on the earth. Hence they will always find people opposing them and their pack mentality. If you stop maniting people, and start respecting their individual values you will find that they are far more good people than bad and that includes Trump and his supporters too.
                          1. C
                            Nov 9, 2016 at 4:59 pm
                            It is a fact he is not a politician but a more intelligent and pragmatic thinking successful business man. Most of the nations are now facing the same dilemma to understand him and his future plans for USA and their relations with this nation. Hope he would be guided/advised by the eminent people that he is going to select. There are in built checks and balances in the system as such we have only to wait and see during the next few months. Jaihind
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