Modi Trump tango: ‘Howdy, Modi’ event could be a milestone towards enmeshing Indian and US interests
Sept. 17, 2019
In a big moment for India-US relations, President Donald Trump has decided to join Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s diaspora outreach event called ‘Howdy, Modi!’ in Houston, Texas. Trump also plans to address the 50,000-strong gathering along with Modi. This is a big win for Indian diplomacy. Coming at a time when Pakistan has tried to internationalise the Kashmir issue, Trump’s presence in Houston signals that Washington is in New Delhi’s corner. It also puts to rest the confusion over Trump’s previous statements on mediating in the Kashmir dispute. The Modi-Trump meet on the sidelines of the recent G7 summit in Biarritz appears to have put the mediation talk to rest.
What’s in it for Trump, who’s famously transactional? One factor is the Indian-American community which has become increasingly influential in US politics. Aiming for re-election next year, Trump could be eyeing this vote bank as insurance against any erosion in his core Republican vote base. Although 62% of Indian-Americans identify themselves as Democrats, Trump may be trying to woo them by showcasing relations with India. But those relations have developed some rough edges that need to be smoothed.
It is the differences on India-US trade that have been most disconcerting. Trump has railed against the bilateral trade deficit, ended India’s preferential trade status under the Generalized System of Preference programme, and even dragged New Delhi to WTO for alleged violation of global trade rules. But to make India-US ties durable and irreversible, these trade issues need to be sorted out. In this regard, it is welcome that New Delhi is working with Washington to address the latter’s concerns over price control on medical equipment such as stents and knee implants, apart from looking at ways to lower duties on American technology equipment and some farm products.
In fact, all of these issues should be settled as part of a grand trade deal with the US. India shouldn’t be shy of this as the two countries have complementary economies and similar values. Both back a rules-based order and share much synergy on the strategic front. This is in contrast to China’s aims with Belt and Road or RCEP. In that sense, in the evolving geopolitical order India and the US are natural partners. Modi and Trump together at Houston should actualise this vision.