PM Modi visit is a chance to showcase India in terms President Donald Trump will find attractive

Given the unpredictability of the US president, PM Modi’s team should be prepared to deal with surprises and be responsive without compromising core Indian interests or overpromising. Modi's visit is an opportunity to showcase the mutual benefits of the India-US relationship.

Written by Tanvi Madan | Updated: June 25, 2017 1:16 pm
Narendra Modi, Donald Trump, Modi US visit, Indo-US ties Finally, this is an opportunity for Narendra Modi to get a better sense of Donald Trump. (File photo)

Three years ago, when Narendra Modi first came to the US as prime minister, American policymakers saw it as an opportunity to engage with the leader of a strategically important country. Given the prior limited official engagement with him, there was uncertainty about the approach the prime minister would take toward the US.

But on this trip, it is prime minister Modi’s turn to engage a significant Indian partner’s leader — about whom there exist a number of uncertainties, but with whom there has not been much official interaction.

What purpose can this visit serve? First, it is a chance for Modi to establish a relationship — even a rapport — with President Donald Trump. Senior Indian officials have been meeting with their new counterparts. But there is no substitute for this highest-level meeting. Arguably, this president’s personal inclinations can shape policy much more than by any of his recent predecessors. If the meeting goes well, it can send a signal across the bureaucracy, allowing movement in some key areas that have been stalled, or maintaining momentum in others, like defense and security. It can also facilitate the management or downplaying of differences in the future.

It is unlikely the prime minister will make a big deal of disagreements (for example, on the Paris agreement or the H-1B visa issue), but will look to address them in a different way (in terms of clean energy or skills contributions). Taking a cue from Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Chinese President Xi Jinping, he will also likely set aside the criticism that Trump has directed against India.

Second, the visit is an opportunity to showcase the mutual benefits of the India-US relationship. For the last decade or so, the reasons for India’s importance has often been left unsaid. It is necessary to go back to the basics and explain the significance of the partnership — in terms that Trump will find attractive.

This particularly means doing what Modi has expected other countries to do with India, which is to explain how those nations can contribute to his domestic objectives. He needs to make the case that Indian companies and consumers are creating American jobs. He could highlight recent deals, such as the order worth billions an Indian airline placed with a US aircraft manufacturer. Or deals that serve both “Buy American” and “Make in India,” such as Indian Railways buying locomotives from a US company which are being produced both in the US and India. Or note the intentions of Indian companies to create jobs in the US, for example in Vice President Mike Pence’s home state of Indiana.

The two countries can announce new agreements in sectors like defence and energy where India has market power. Other contributions to the American economy can be noted as well — for example, via students, high-skilled workers, and tourists — as well as India’s strategic contribution to maritime security in the Indian Ocean or to Afghanistan.

Third, a meeting is a chance to shape Trump’s views on key subjects. At a time when the administration is undertaking a review of Afghanistan policy — which will have repercussions for its Pakistan’s policy — Modi can provide India’s perspective.

Counter-terrorism and China are two other key issues, particularly given concerns and uncertainty about Trump’s approach toward them. This is easier done during a bilateral visit than in a meeting on the sidelines of a multilateral summit, which isn’t Trump’s comfort zone. The prime minister and his team can also engage with other members of the administration on these issues, and more broadly with constituencies for the India relationship within government and outside it, such as business and the large and influential Indian diaspora.

Finally, this is an opportunity for Modi to get a better sense of Trump. This could be a pace-setting visit. It’ll help the prime minister determine whether or not it is worth making deals or compromises, and how far to go. It can also set the stage for jump-starting negotiations (for example, on trade and investment), or establishing new or replacement dialogue mechanisms.

Abe’s visit, for example, led to a Vice President-deputy PM-led economic dialogue and Xi’s to a 100-day economic action plan.

Modi has some advantages that Abe and Xi lacked. Trump has criticized India, most recently on climate change. But his general impression of the country and the prime minister seem to be positive, whether because of his personal impressions, his business experience or the political support he received from sections of the Indian diaspora. Moreover, India was not a target during the campaign the way China, or Asian and European allies were. On his part, Modi believes in the power of personal diplomacy. He has made clear that he will show Trump the respect he has sought. This might be especially attractive for Trump coming on the heels of strained interactions with European leaders abroad, and at a time he feels besieged at home.

Publicly, it is smart for policymakers to set low expectations for visits. But it’s even more true in this case, given the unpredictability of the president, as well as domestic political developments in the U.S. There is no guarantee that the meeting will go well—or even that a good meeting’s effects will last. The visiting delegation will have to be prepared to deal with surprises, asks and complaints, and to be responsive without compromising core Indian interests or overpromising.

Some have asked “why bother” with a visit, then. The answer is that the US remains important for India. It’s worth recalling why multiple governments have invested in building a strong relationship with the US. Strategically, it has been considered important to balance China, facilitate a greater Indian role on the global stage, and help build India’s military and economic capacity. Economically, it has been a crucial market, as well as source of capital, technology, resources, education and jobs. Democracy and the diaspora have also created links.

And while there is little doubt that these fluid times reinforce the impression that a diversified portfolio of partnerships is a good idea, India’s own history shows that a US partnership offers India more options and benefits. For years, Indian policymakers have asked their American counterparts to show patience, to continue investing in a relationship that might not always give immediate returns but will be in worthwhile in the medium to long term.

Now, it is India’s turn to show such patience.

Tanvi Madan is the Director of the Indian Project at the Brookings think-tank in Washington DC

For all the latest Opinion News, download Indian Express App

  1. B
    bitterhoney
    Jun 24, 2017 at 11:00 pm
    There are quit few things in India that can attract Trump: 1) Patanjali products,2) Khajuraho temple, 3) Kamasutra, 4) Asaram Bapu.
    Reply
    1. C
      Craig Hill
      Jun 24, 2017 at 10:36 pm
      I think these expectations from the Modi-Trump visit are far-fetched. Most importantly, Trump will never serve out his term. He has simply committed too many political crimes to survive for long. Besides, his mental faculties disallow any lengthy thought processes with which Modi could enlighten him: He sees foreign ideas, except when they involve further enriching him, as immediately dissmissable, especially when they come from a person of color. Were i a member of Modi's braintrust, i would ask for a meeting with Vice-President Pence, relatively soon the heir to the rest of the Trump term in office. There, Modi may find some important resonance, not that Pence will necessarily be in office any longer than Trump will have served, such is the growing antipathy in the US toward their Republican party, but that Pence may actually make inroads with Modi's ideas with the American foreign policy apparatus, which could, as Americans put it, have some "legs".
      Reply
      1. S
        Sanjiv Gokhale
        Jun 25, 2017 at 9:07 am
        You are definitely a low information dude given the you have written. You are one of those who has been kissing Pelosis's Hillary's ass. after seeing the chaos of past 8 yrs under Obama one would expect s like you to wake up but seems you are driven by pure hate for Trump. Perhaps you have been on welfare or can''t hold on to a job. I doubt you could qualify to be a doorman at Trump's hotel or golfcourses. You must be watching CNN for your take on Trump's popularity
        Reply
      2. K
        Kirtidev Bhatt
        Jun 24, 2017 at 9:30 pm
        This is a very balanced and matter of fact report. Anyone who has seen President Trump's behavior and actions during the campaign and after becoming President will realise that he is more comfortable talking one to one. He needs respect that only an Indian can provide. As mentioned in this report "Modi believes in the power of personal diplomacy. He has made clear that he will show Trump the respect he has sought. This might be especially attractive for Trump." Trump craves for respect as the President of the most powerful country in the world. No amount of flattery will be enough for the President but PM Modi must make certain that he knows, India respects him not only for his wealth but also for his 'in your face' campaign and the unexpected victory deserve respect.
        Reply
        1. S
          s s nair
          Jun 24, 2017 at 7:53 pm
          Even if Modi fails, it will be success to BJP and the Indian media.
          Reply
          1. R
            Rama
            Jun 24, 2017 at 7:39 pm
            There is no free lunch! Its purchase, purchase and purchase. America needs to the products and Indian leaders wants to show bravado and a fee.
            Reply
            1. R
              Rama
              Jun 24, 2017 at 7:41 pm
              There is no free lunch! Its purchase, purchase and purchase. America needs to their products and Indian leaders wants to show bravado by paying a fee.
              Reply
              1. R
                Rama
                Jun 24, 2017 at 7:41 pm
                There is no free lunch! Its purchase, purchase and purchase. America needs to their products and Indian leaders wants to show bravado by paying a fee.
                1. B
                  bitterhoney
                  Jun 24, 2017 at 11:37 pm
                  Modi is behaving like dictator, nobody can question his huge spending on arm's purchase. He does not need any approval from the cabinet as all cabinet members are his worshipers. To please Trump he can even gift India to him.
              2. J
                Jaijawan Jaikisan
                Jun 24, 2017 at 7:18 pm
                Not much going to change
                Reply
                1. S
                  Sankaran Krishnan
                  Jun 24, 2017 at 4:48 pm
                  At present India has a Smart Prime Minister and definitely he will have an open mind while dealing with the new US regime and also he will study Mr. Trump during his personal interaction based on which India and its PM will decide how to go about it and as well protect the interest of India. Now it is up to USA and its administration to reciprocate and make it trustworthy because of unpredictable TRUMP at the helm and if he decides unilaterally without consulting India he may have to face up Nationally and Internationally and as far as PM Modi he had proved his credibility and trust worthiness for all these 3 years to not only USA but across the Continents and also respected as an trusted World Leader !!!
                  Reply
                  1. S
                    Sunil Sharma
                    Jun 24, 2017 at 4:30 pm
                    Both were seen enjoying BIG MAC in WH. While 100 million in poor indya go hungry each night for the lack of food milk and clean drinking water, no bed to sleep on. SICK with zero medical check up. Meera Desh Mahan Hai Jai Bharat
                    Reply
                    1. Load More Comments