Monday, 30th October 2017

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A victory foretold

It is important to brief Donald Trump on India

By Diplomacy- K.P. Nayar
  • Published 16.11.16

For a full week now in president-elect Donald Trump's United States of America, friends of India belonging to Washington's permanent 'establishment' have been trying to get the transition team set up by the next president to brief Trump on India.

Trump has shown absolutely no interest in such a briefing, according to those who have been trying to organize it for the victor in last week's presidential poll. This may come as a wake-up call to those in India who never tire of spouting the piffle that a Republican president in the White House is better for India than a Democrat.

One of those behind this hitherto unsuccessful attempt was brutally frank about pundits and strategic analysts in India. "Trump is neither pro-India, nor anti-India. He is solely pro-America. If he has to be persuaded to take any interest in India, he and those in his immediate circle have to be incentivized into doing that."

The establishment which has embarked on this India-familiarization project for Trump fits the description of "permanent" because the puppeteers who manipulate and control those who run America's national capital do not change, no matter who comes to power. These puppeteers - just as in the corridors of power in New Delhi - merely switch sides and find a way to fraternize and then influence the new lot which has assumed power.

For many years now, India has been a favourite of the Washington establishment. In turn, that has found reflection in the India policies of successive US presidents, from Bill Clinton to George W. Bush to Barack Obama. This establishment is very concerned that unless Trump is made aware of America's stakes in its relationship with India, the relationship is in danger of hitting a trough or even going downhill.

The president-elect has signalled within days of his victory that he is hedging on some of his election promises which he will treat as jumla, to borrow a phrase made notorious in a similar context by the president of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Amit Shah. As the realism of political exigencies dawns on the new president, coupled with legislative restraints built into the American system by the founding fathers of the US Constitution, Trump is likely to persevere only with the most doable of his populist promises.

Creating new employment for his people and restricting immigration in a manner that preserves existing American jobs are two areas where he will seek to issue executive orders in the first 100 days of a Trump presidency.

The danger is that in seeking to restrict the inflow of aliens any new administration rule or Republican legislation in the US Congress may have blanket provisions. These may not distinguish Indian immigrants or temporary workers from those that a Trump administration is seeking to keep out of the US for economic reasons. Legislation in a democracy has to be nationality neutral and cannot be discriminatory on the basis of ethnicity, gender or even religion. Otherwise, it will be struck down as unconstitutional or illegal in a country with an independent judiciary such as the US.

The truth is that most Indians who arrive in America to make it their home - temporarily or permanently - enter the US to improve their lot economically. More often than not, this is at the cost of the welfare of the class of people who supported Trump's promise to enrich them and voted for him in the belief that he would translate that promise into action.

Fundamentally, a clash of interest, therefore, exists between the migration of Indians to America and the convictions and promises that Trump will attempt to translate into policy if he wants to be re-elected after four years. One of the reasons why the Washington establishment wants Trump to be urgently educated about India is that the movement of people from India to the US has elements which are uniquely different from those of other developing countries. It is more at par with European or even Jewish immigration in our time.

Such migration from India has an aspect which goes beyond H-1B or L-1 visas, which have attracted scrutiny by xenophobes in the present atmosphere in the US and criticism by American workers who have lost their jobs or by labour unions which have campaigned against imports of white collar workforce from India.

What is not so well known, for instance, is that virtually every large American corporation today has a research facility in India. The GE Global Research centre and the Xerox Research Centre, India, both in Bangalore and the SAS Research and Development India Private Limited in Pune, an offshoot of the large American corporation which began as a small project at North Carolina State University to analyse agricultural research, are only a few examples among the many which underline the research linkages that now bind India and the US.

Cutting edge research links such as these have no geographical boundaries and require the constant movement of people across borders: in this case, between India and the US. Unless special provisions are made in any potential Trump administration decisions to ensure that movement of people from India and the US and vice versa is unimpeded, such links could seriously suffer.

It is risky from an Indian point of view to take comfort that Trump, being an entrepreneur himself, understands the needs of business or to speculate that as president he will not stand in the way of multinational corporations accessing global talent. Even businessmen who move into public life have to meet the exigencies of politics, so Trump may realize that he has no room for manoeuvre on issues like letting in alien talent into the US under its present atmosphere.

Eight years of constant refrain by Barack Obama about how Americans are being overtaken by Indians and Chinese in science, technology, engineering and similar areas have made many Americans realize that the US urgently needs sustained infusion of specialized talent in these areas.

Obama's solution was two-fold. One was to attract bright foreign students to prestigious institutions of higher learning in the US and then make it possible for these students to stay back in America after their studies. This way they would contribute with their talent to maintaining America's competitiveness in the world. The other solution was to make it easier for people from abroad who have already demonstrated their talent in various fields to move to the US and make America their home.

Just as Trump is now convinced after meeting Obama last week that parts of 'Obamacare,' the president's signature health plan, need to be preserved - during the campaign Trump had said he would bury Obama's health reform - it is important to convince Trump of the benefits of discriminating in favour of allowing certain categories of immigrants into the US from countries like India.

Otherwise, the ground would be set to fritter away a lot of what has been achieved in Indo-US relations in the last 10 to 15 years. Hence the idea of briefing Trump on India, not by the usual suspects but by businessmen like his supporter, Wilbur Ross, who once held a 27 per cent stake in SpiceJet that he later sold to Kalanithi Maran's Sun Group.

One of the few Indian strategic analysts who foresaw a Trump victory on November 8 was the former diplomat, Hardeep Singh Puri, who was Trump's tenant in New York. For four years when he was India's permanent representative to the United Nations, he lived in Trump World Tower across the road from the UN headquarters. Being a quintessential diplomat he indicated diplomatically in his recent writings that Trump will be the next US president and foresaw Hillary Clinton's defeat.

It is significant that in his latest book, Perilous Interventions: The Security Council and the Politics of Chaos, written while the presidential campaign was under way, Puri clinically analysed Lieutenant General Michael Flynn's contention that the US policy on Syria - which led to the current conditions there - constituted a "wilful decision." It was Flynn's briefings to Trump which persuaded the Republican candidate to allege in campaign speeches that Hillary Clinton, along with Obama, created the Islamic State in Syria. Flynn is likely to be Trump's national security adviser.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in the US was convinced that Trump would win and maintained contacts with him under the radar, in the usual RSS style. One of its leading lights, Shekhar Tiwari, emphatically argued in e-mails to this columnist while the campaign was under way that Trump would defeat Clinton. Narendra Modi may find the RSS contacts with Trump to be useful in the coming months.