With Donald Trump stunning Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the race to the White House in the 2016 United States presidential election on a strong anti-establishment vote, questions are being asked about the impact of a Trump presidency on India.
Trump has no experience serving in government and is seen as an “unknown quantity”. Add to that the unusual, over-the-top comments that he has made during his presidential run from June 2015, in which he was both critical and complimentary by turns about most things, including India.
But the Republican control over the United States Congress does not automatically guarantee Trump’s ability to push through some of the most contentious of his electoral promises without opposition from within his own party.
Trump and several Republican leaders have butted heads on more than one occasion during the long election season, with Trump publicly rebuking them as much as he did Hillary Clinton during the campaign.
He is an establishment outsider. This was arguably,his single biggest attribute that contributed to his victory.He successfully tapped into the anti-establishment sentiment that resonated within most white middle- class voters in many parts of the country.
The downside is that, with this ‘outsider’ tag there comes a level of uncertainty and unpredictability over the direction his domestic and international policies might take. However, some themes emerge from his and the Republican establishments’ commentary that might offer clues on the new government’s policy priorities.
The US president-elect is a vocal critic of his country’s current policies in the Middle East. Trump’s presidency will likely see a reversal of U.S. foreign policy in that troubled region, with the U.S. doubling down on Israel and its Gulf Arab allies, but not without new conditions of engagement.
Trump: 'We went from mistakes in Iraq to Egypt to Libya, to President Obama's line in the sand in Syria. Each of these actions have helped to throw the region into chaos and gave ISIS the space it needs to grow and prosper. Very bad. It all began with a dangerous idea that we could make western democracies out of countries that had no experience or interests in becoming a western democracy.' Foreign Policy Speech, April 27, 2016.
It is no surprise that what happens in America doesn’t stay in America. It seldom has. It has become this larger than life organisation (if we can call it that) based on whose actions the whole world lives-by. Nevertheless, there hasn’t been any other election threatening to touch/ turn our lives like this one.
The race for the most powerful job on earth has always been important, be it the 1960 election of John F Kennedy in the backdrop of the cold war or the highly significant 2000 face-off between George W Bush and Al-Gore, but can you recall even one image from the relatively proximate 2000 campaign that gave the world the Iraq War with all its chilling consequences? (Exhibit A: ISIS)
With Trump being a relative outsider, and his cabinet starting to take shape, it will undoubtedly take time for India and the new US administration to get a feel for each other, but engagement early and often is key, if both countries are to realise the potential of their strategic partnership, which has propelled leaps and bounds under the tutelage of India prime minister Narendra Modi and current US president Barrack Obama, the BFF’s of the political world.
Indeed, some level of this early engagement may have already started considering India will be a major player in world-affairs during Trump’s White House tenure. Trump alluded to having met with “high representatives of India” during the third presidential debate.
The reactions to his win have been mixed. Socio-political, foreign diplomatic, domestic, military and a lot many agendas are foreseen to undergo changes. But, not to forget, all of the above is simultaneously controlled by the economics of the USA and in this era of globalisation, economics of the whole wide world. It is this that determines the direction in which the policy decision ends up.
To begin with, the closest stakeholder of Trump’s economics is predicted to be its closest southern neighbour, Mexico. Trump has been very been very clear about the negotiation, he wants over the clauses of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement, signed between Canada, Mexico and the United States in 1990 by Bill Clinton). To take it further, the new US president has also said that if Mexico does not agree for renegotiation, he might even pull out of it altogether.
His main opposition to this is that as a direct consequence of NAFTA, there has been a migration of the huge number of manufacturing jobs in Rio Grande. Going further, he has also threatened to increase the tariff on Mexican products up to 35%.(wall)
Trump seems to be very clear about his stance on relations with China. He has been vocal to declare China as a “currency manipulator” and threatens to bring cases against Beijing in the World Trade Organisation and consider imposing a 45 % tariff on Chinese products making it easier for American companies to compete.
How far would he go to actually do all these things is another matter all-together.As a businessman, Trump has interests all over the world, including in China, where he has around a dozen projects in the pipeline, most of which are with Chinese- government owned entities dealing in real-estate.
Would he go all the way with naming China as the currency manipulator which he said he would do on his first day of office and would he impose these tariffs that he speaks about considering that all those projects worth billions of dollars would die?
Like in China, this could be a potential conflict of interest for the President around the world, where his larger business interests form the basis for the Unites States’ policy document.
Considering the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Barack Obama believed that this was and should be the way to keep countries such as Japan, Brunei and others in the pacific-rim away from the economic influence of Beijing, but under Trump the chances are that these countries shall be subjected to similar protectionist structures as Mexico and China.
This is going to affect these countries in a very adverse manner as they have an export led model of growth, but what is interesting here is that if America pulls out of the TPP, the direct beneficiaries will be India.
A withdrawal from the TPP, another thing that he will do on a busy first day at the office, will bring more focus on the already existing WTO trade deals and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement, which will eventually benefit India.
Any blow to the world economy due to the victory of President Trump shall not leave the United Kingdom immune. Britain is the second biggest exporter of service in the world; hence it is also at a very high risk due to the changes that the Trumps’ service may come along with. With it already reeling under the effects of Brexit, the times are testing for Prime Minister Theresa May and the UK to come out of the mess that it finds itself in.
However, the effect of Trump on the European Union (EU) is more complex to judge and will be clearer as it depends on the decisions taken by the two stalwarts of the EU, France and Germany and the political turns taking place there in the short-term.
In India the biggest concerns are in the IT sector and the future of the H-1B visa. Trump has been highly vocal on the need to prevent losing of high paying skilled jobs to people from India and China. With the $146 billion Indian IT sector heavily dependent on H-1B visas as a measure to compete against companies, a protectionist stand that Trump seems to be taking here will send alarm bells ringing in most Indian IT boardrooms. (P.S: Alarm bells have already started in the Tata Consultancy Services(TCS) board-room, be it for an altogether different reason).
Indian citizens are the top recipients of temporary high-skilled worker H-1B visas (more than 60% of whom are immigrants). India is also the second largest source of international students to the US after China Official US Government Data
Trump has announced that his administration would initiate a tough immigration policy and hike the minimum wage paid to H-1B visa holders, reducing the prospect of job opportunities for Indian professionals. India’s IT industry depends heavily on the US government’s H-1B program.
Earlier this year, the US government is believed to have received a staggering 2,50,000 H-1B visa applications for the 2017 financial year (a number significantly higher than the cap of 65,000), mostly from Indian IT firms.
His claim of being receptive towards Indian students for higher studies in the US universities is a major catalyst for the brain drain we are already suffering with. He believes that India has some of the worlds most tenacious and dedicated students and those should be given an opportunity to pursue their studies here and even seek employment thereafter.
The debate over immigrants has been a central, and often,the ugly theme of this year’s presidential race. With 3.3 million Indians residing in the United States, this is an issue that directly affects the Indian community in America.
Through time it has been observed that Trump has some bipolar views on India. On one hand, he has abused and criticised our country and on the other hand, he has also called it great. But, let’s not forget, just like in China, he’s got two massive projects coming up in Mumbai and Pune.
Imagine the hordes of activists, politicians, karyakartas and general bystanders that would gather to protest outside the construction sites of his Trump towers in both cities if he spewed negative pronouncements about India.
Another aspect to ponder upon is his xenophobic views of minorities and people belonging to other races. While it all sounds bizarre, if the first step he takes as President is against the Muslim world and makes their entry into the US difficult or imposes obnoxious pre-requisites, the domino principle will kick in.
All these 200 million odd people will be vulnerable to racism and its often subtle insults as well as its brutal obviousness. India has the second-largest Muslim population in the world and Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric is completely against the secular character of Indian democracy.
The dangerous element inherent in taking all this lightly is that Trump is extremely serious and believes in his mission. It is not populist pre-election rhetoric. It is sincere intent. We have recently seen how the tectonic plates of black on white relations have turned grotesque and how much lava of rage churns beneath the surface.
Even as Trump makes his transition into the white house , several instances of hate crimes and racist attacks have occurred in America. Now, the two may not be directly linked, but a man like Trump could blow the top of the ethnic volcano with the perpetrators of the said crimes apparently finding the liberty knowing that the new administration holds similar views.
One has to worry about the schisms in society that are widening, worry about the future for these ethnic children, as the xenophobic uneducated white Catholics have found a new found strength to drive out immigrants, homosexuals, blacks, Muslims and all those, who become a problem to achieve their goal of a highly majoritarian society.
Since, we can remember, America has been like the promised land, the land where millions from all over the world would migrate in search of that ‘American Dream’ and this was solely possible because the Americans were largely accommodating, sharing their dreams with people. But, has this election changed all of that?
India’s previous relationships with the US presidents show that having a Democrat president has always been the better option, even though George Bush tried to change this perception.But Barrack Obama after him, and the sort of repertoire that he built, firstly with the UPA and Manmohan Singh and currently with Narendra Modi has put that debate to rest. But will Trump fare better than his predecessors?
For starters, Trump has made it quite clear that he is going to cut down on the aid his country has extended to Pakistan for the past 14 years(since 2002) which is around $30 billion dollars a year.While most senators and other powerful people from the American administration system have been vocal against Pakistan in the past, present American Afghanistan-Pakistan (Af-Pak) policies has been deterrent in this regard.
While Shalabh Kumar, an Indian origin businessman and a key member of Donald Trump’s advisory committee says that Trump will declare Pakistan a terrorist state, the jury is out with regards to this.
Just in November, the Government of Pakistan, released a read-out of the telephone call that the President had with the Pakistan Prime-Minister Nawaz Sharif, where he called Sharif, ‘a terrific guy’.
While the guy who wrote this read-out will never make a good author, the phone call assumes high significance particularly, with Trump like Obama, has offered to play a role, to settle all ongoing disputes, ‘ if both parties ask so’.
While, Pakistan always drums up the ‘K’ issue, in most international forums, India across all party lines, maintains a unilateral stance that these disputes are ‘bilateral’ and will never accept third party intervention in the same.
'Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif called President-elect USA Donald Trump and felicitated him on his victory. President Trump said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif you have a very good reputation. You are a terrific guy. You are doing amazing work which is visible in every way. I am looking forward to see you soon. As I am talking to you Prime Minister, I feel I am talking to a person I have known for long. Your country is amazing with tremendous opportunities. Pakistanis are one of the most intelligent people. I am ready and willing to play any role that you want me to play to address and find solutions to the outstanding problems. It will be an honor and I will personally do it. Feel free to call me any time even before 20th January that is before I assume my office.' These are the actual quotes released by the Press Information Bureau of Pakistan. No, we are not making it up.
Trump has labelled Pakistan as one of the most dangerous country and also stated that you need to get India involved; “India is the check to Pakistan”. This implies that we can actually expect something good from Trump’s presidency where we can expect some actual curbing of terrorism without the regional bias between the various terror groups.
Recently the United States government has banned the student wing of the ‘Lashkar-e-taiba’ as a terrorist organisation and Trump’s transition team is expected to give its inputs on all relevant issues. It was quite obvious from his campaign that he will be much harder with Pakistan than his predecessor Barack Obama was or his opponent Hillary Clinton will be.
Trump is liked by the Russian president Vladimir Putin, so in case America and Russia are able to resolve their conflicts, then India to a great extent and the world to a larger extent is going benefit a lot from these two sides. With statements like “Ab ki baar Trump sarkar” and “I love Hindus” it seems like he is fond of our country and his tenure as a president would be something really beneficial for us.
When Daniel Radcliffe, the actor who played Harry potter, was asked would he agree with JK Rowling’s assessment that Voldemort was nowhere as bad as Trump, Daniel had a perfect reply – “He feels more of an opportunist – like I don’t know how much of this stuff he’s saying he actually, really, really believes.”
While Donald Trump is busy putting his administration together and still fighting folks on twitter, let us quickly do a Status check of arguably three of his most prominent election promises. One, the Hillary Clinton Prosecution, two, Climate Change, and the Wall.
“Well, I’ll tell you what I’m going to do, I’m going to think about it,” Trump's reply when asked if he would ask a special prosecutor to investigate Clinton and her use of a private email server in an interview on CBS with Leslie Stahl
While Trump has changed tracks on Hillary and the wall, on climate change he appears to be firm.
For some reason, the President thinks Global warming is not real, and believes it was a false propaganda spread out by the Chinese for their economic gains.
Trump has now appointed a staunch Global Warming critic and a sceptic, Scott Pruitt, as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil, Rex Tillerson as his choice for the Secretary of State, also another global warming critic.Ironically, Mr Pruitt has sued the EPA on many occasions during Obama’s Presidency and denies that Global Warming is a threat to mankind.
In all these, it seems like mere posturing and it would be fair to say America would be under considerable Pressure to stay committed to the COP-21 Paris Agreement. At the very best, some amount of leeway could be given to the fossil fuel industry in the US to create a few jobs, thus fuelling Trumps’ claim to be the greatest ‘Jobs’ president ever.
The worst case, for the US would be that they move partially or entirely out of the Paris agreement, much to the dismay of China, India and other nations that have already ratified the Paris agreement. India, was very vocal about the way the developed world was pressurising the developing world regarding carbon emissions, even as the developed countries were guilty of huge carbon emissions since their respective industrial revolutions. Still, swallowing the bitter pill, India signed and ratified the agreement.
'The Government of India declares its understanding that, as per its national laws; keeping in view its development agenda, particularly the eradication of poverty and provision of basic needs for all its citizens, coupled with its commitment to following the low carbon path to progress, and on the assumption of unencumbered availability of cleaner sources of energy and technologies and financial resources from around the world; and based on a fair and ambitious assessment of global commitment to combating climate change, it is ratifying the Paris Agreement.' The Declaration made by the Indian government while ratifying the Paris Agreement
If and when the US tries to move out of this agreement, it would be a retrograde move and by not Focussing on clean energy, USA will go back in time. Yet, US may not even have the choice to walk back on the deal due to the massive amount geo-political pressure and also the leverage China has over it. The deal, at the very maximum may simply be used as a bargaining chip.
From an Indian perspective it is critical to acknowledge that the axis of power for this century has shifted from the US and now is in its neighbourhood. When China is taking up aggressive measures to shift to a clean energy economy, India must not be left behind.
China blazed ahead of the rest of the world in terms of investment in renewable energy last year, spending a total of $103bn, a staggering 36% of the world total
Considering India is a net importer of fossil fuel, It would be in India’s interest to pursue its goal of clean energy regardless of the stance USA takes. If the US indeed opens up fossil fuel production for exports etc, it would be beneficial for India in the short term vis – a-vis lesser fuel costs due to more supply of Oil in the world. However, may so be the reason, the net effect of Trumps presidency on the current move towards green energy is bound to be limited.
India-United States Bilateral Ties
Every coin that is tossed upwards has to come down at one point of time. Along a materialistic line, this holds true for strategies and plans which are perennially subjected to the threat of possible backfiring.
No matter how controversially misguided the notion might sound at first, the election of Donald Trump has greater potential to spell out a brighter future with regard to our country in terms of bilateral relations than the more populists main stream media view of ‘doomsday’.
Economically speaking, just like the TPP, there are negotiations taking place of a Trans-Atlantic Partnership which has the United States and all major European countries as its participants under similar clauses like the TPP. Since the diplomatic play of United States will assist her in availing trade benefits from the whole world, with or without agreements, the opposition from other nations with regard to the same has intensified over time. Under the existent overproduction, foreign currency devaluation of other countries and the US lacking long term infrastructure investment, the TPP might function as a shattering blow to the labour force and manufacturing industry in the United States.The scraping of the agreement is what India and many other political powers want. This will relieve the non-participating nations of the seemingly unjust partisan treatment even though it aims at the best interests of the US.
For India, the Obama administration and the Narendra Modi government have signed many contracts including a $4 billion dollar military deal during Obama’s second term which the US intends to adhere to as it is. They have also signed the LEMOA, short for Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement, signed by the Defence minister Manohar Parrikar during his visit to the US on the 29th of August,2016. This is with the vision of developing ideal long term military interoperability and cooperation between the countries by allowing transfer of high end military technology. Now LEMOA shall give access to replenishment and refuelling of facilities on either side of the contract. While this is a pure logistical agreement, there is a cause which states that there will be no military basing on Indian soil thus protecting the sovereign interests of India.
At present, India and the US share an extensive and expanding cultural, strategic, military, and economic relationship which is in the phase of implementing ‘confidence building measures’ to overcome the legacy of ‘trust deficit.’ Some will argue that this deficit was brought about by adversarial US foreign policies and multiple instances of technology denial, in favour of the bete-noire, which have plagued the relationship over several decades.
It should be noted that there are several issues on which India and the US disagree on, particularly, the civil liberties, and the trade sector viz. a viz. the WTO, where India and the US have had a literal face-off on India’s National Solar Program, which the WTO ruled in favour of the United States, for India’s violation of global trading rules, and many more.
But key recent developments including the rapid growth of India’s economy, closer ties between the Indian and American industries especially in the IT, engineering and medical sectors, an informal tag-team to manage an increasingly assertive China, robust cooperation on counter-terrorism, the deterioration of U.S.-Pakistan relations, easing of export controls over dual-use goods & technologies (99% of licenses applied for are now approved), and reversal of long-standing American opposition to India’s strategic program have all played a key role in taking this bilateral relations forward.
There can be a lot of predictions as to when Trump will fail after taking the top post at White House. However, we all know what has happened in the race for the 2016 US presidential elections. The early indicators suggested that it would be an easy victory for Hillary Clinton. Things turned out to be the opposite and if you now go with early predictions, there are mixed reactions, especially with a large percentage suggesting he will struggle. Struggle to even get what this job is even about.
It is too early to judge how Trump will perform in office and more importantly for us, the implications on India. We should be prepared to give him a chance as the President before blaming or judging him.
So, fasten your seatbelts. This is gonna be one hell of a ride.
Without further adieu, we give you President Donald Trump.