America loves India, America respects India and America will be forever a faithful and loyal friend to the Indian people,” said the US President Donald Trump. The First Lady and the President travelled 8000 miles to convey this message to over one lakh Indians who assembled to greet him at the newly built Motera stadium in Ahmedabad on Monday. He was effusive in his praise for his ‘dear friend’, the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The grand reception, “Namaste Trump”, for the US President, was along similar lines to what the Indian Prime Minister had received five months ago in the “Howdy Modi” event in Texas organised by US-based Indian volunteers. People may question the real outcome of such expensive shows but both Trump and Modi love such grand displays and a large number of faithfuls did enjoy the show, by participating in the song and dance. After all, the display of such mutual love – and hugging – certainly augurs well for the Indo-American relationships more than the earlier distrust revealed, for example, by President Richard Nixon and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
There is rhetoric no doubt. Trump compares the rise of the Indian state with that of Modi from a ‘chaiwalla at a cafeteria’. Modi, he says, is a moving story of an incredible rise of a country through hard work. President Trump has done his homework and gives a long list of statistics of how India has grown into a giant economy. Since the turn of the century Indian economy has grown six times. Within a decade India has lifted 270 million people from abject poverty. Connections through electricity, internet, cooking gas, highways and basic sanitation are indeed great achievements. America learns; and so do we.
With an obvious reference to China, President Trump says that India has done it all as a free democratic country and not one which seeks power through coercion. India has set its people free to chase their dreams. This is also a reference of how America would want India to remain as such. “This makes America a natural ally of India”. He quotes Swami Vivekananda to establish that among the many differences both Americans and Indians have one divine soul dedicated to God striving to become greater human beings. President Trump appreciates the contribution of the four million Indian Americans who have made the US stronger and better.
The relationship, however, is not completely strewn with flowers. Recently, America pronounced India as a “developed” state. It’s certainly an honour to be recognised as such but with this comes the withdrawal of all the subsidies and benefits that go to a developing country in matters of trade and business. Naturally, India is in a protest mood. President Trump, before he came to India for the present grand reception, was speaking about India creating ‘obstacles’ in trade. This 36-hour trip to India has hardly any time for trade negotiations. It’s just the visits to the biggest cricket ground at Motera, Gandhi Ashram, and the Taj Mahal.
There may be some talks on defence deals and on tackling global terrorism. But trade is still a sticky issue. But to get India as an ally against China, especially in the South Asian politics and in the Indian Ocean (including the South China Sea), America needs to soften its stand. The grand reception of President Trump in India, therefore, may not be meant simply for optics.