After the Houston triumph, Narendra Modi has emerged as the Henry Kissinger of Indian diplomacy. He has achieved what no other Indian Prime Minister could, bringing the US to India's side in its fight against Pak-sponsored Islamic Terrorism. The bonhomie and camaraderie displayed by the two great leaders of two great democracies have opened great possibilities and hope for India and the US.
Narendra Modi as Prime Minister since 2014 has been trying to leverage the Indian diaspora as a great diplomatic asset. The Houston event marked the coming of age of this strategy when Modi and Trump, holding hands, strolled across the stadium greeting the 50,000 people of Indian origin with an unambiguous political message. Modi said "Ab ki baar, Trump sarkar", more as poetic rhetoric than an endorsement of Trump for the American presidential election, now only a year away. For his part, Trump said he would be the best-ever friend for India in the White House. Trump obviously is aware of the bumpy Indo-US relations in the past seven decades. Often, the US has sided with Pakistan, which was a NATO country and unlike the Russian republic which always stood steadily by India, the US used to vacillate and hyphenate India and Pakistan.
Call it Modi's diplomatic coup or Trump's policy shift, the US-India relation today is on a different footing. Trump said everything that India wanted to hear. Without naming Pakistan, Modi said the US in 9/11 and India in 26/11 faced a terror attack from the same source. While India is still debating if terror has a religion or not, Trump was forthright in saying that the US will stand strong with India in fighting Global Islamist Terror. The debate on border security and illegal migration is hot in India. Trump's forceful stand on both issues is identical to Modi's stand. Trump was very eloquent on the benefits provided by his administration to the Indian diaspora rule. He also emphasized cooperation on defence, energy security and the Indian contribution to America's economic growth and job creation.
Modi and Trump lavishly praised each other. What was significant however was the chemistry between the two leaders. Both highlighted their achievements in their respective countries and stressed how the new dimensions of their friendship will benefit both countries. Modi asked the diaspora to give a standing ovation to Trump for his commitment to fight terror. Modi in his speech said Trump considers him a tough negotiator. Both leaders said they are learning a lot from each other. How this new diplomatic equation will work to India's advantage in the long run depends on many factors including the Presidential poll outcome next year.
That is why some critics suggest that Modi should not have openly sided with Trump. But that is not how diplomacy works or big powers respond. Modi considers India a big power. And he believes in taking big risks. As Prime Minister, he has turned diplomacy India-centric and ideology-neutral. That is why, after the Balakot air strike and the abrogation of Article 370, he could rally nations behind India and isolate Pakistan.
Republican presidents have been more India-friendly than Democrats, though the buzz in India has always been pro-Democrat. Some say that with his endorsement of Trump, Modi has confused the four million Indian Americans in the US. But what Modi has achieved is that for the first time, the Indian diaspora has been recognized as a significant factor in the US election. This is commendable leverage, and only few ethnic groups have this advantage there. Pakistan for instance, does not enjoy this advantage.
Unlike Pakistan, we are not looking for aid. Our canvass is larger and it is political and strategic. Technology transfer, cooperation on space and defence, a strategic partnership against the shenanigans of China and Pakistan are the areas in which Modi is looking for US support. The message from "Howdy, Modi" is loud and clear on all these aspects. Modi has got what India wanted. He has made Pakistan irrelevant in India's diplomatic engagement the US. This will also impact the Indian position globally.
(Dr R. Balashankar is Member, BJP Central Committee on Training, and Committee on Publications and former Convener BJP National Intellectual Cell and former Editor Organiser.)
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