The South Asian Times

20 October 2018 04:52 AM

Strike personal rapport, focus on continuity, Modi urged

By Vishav

New Delhi, June 25: With Prime Minister Narendra Modi set for his first face-to-face interaction with US President Donald Trump on Monday, almost every strategic analyst feels the outcome of this meeting will be the first indication of Washington's policy towards India in the Trump era.

Barring a few voices, the chorus suggests that Modi should approach the visit with minimal expectations and hope to establish a personal rapport with a mercurial Trump.

The official position of the government, however, is that Trump's personality is not an issue as the relationship between the two countries "is institutional in nature", not personal.

Yet the style of functioning of both Modi and Trump are personality-driven as has been seen in Modi's interactions with world leaders including Trump's predecessor Barack Obama and in Trump's meetings with Shinzo Abe (Japan), Xi Jinping (China) Angela Merkel (Germany).

Former Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor says Modi must hope to establish a personal rapport with Trump.

"Given President Trump's somewhat erratic track record, it will be wise to approach the visit with minimal expectations. The PM must hope to establish a personal rapport with the US President, who is known as man of personal likes and dislikes," Tharoor told IANS.

He said Modi should also "gently" set the record straight on Trump's "gratuitous and misplaced attack" on India over climate change.

"Beyond that, Modi needs to put India on Trump's radar screen, from which we appear to have been absent since his election."

While announcing the US withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, Trump had accused India of signing the accord to get "billions and billions and billions" of dollars from developed nations.

Modi is to meet Trump on Monday afternoon (late night as per Indian time) after his meetings with senior officials and dignitaries of the US administration.

Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar flew into Washington ahead of Modi to meet senior officials in the Trump administration and to lay the groundwork for the high-profile visit.

Strategic analyst Uday Bhaskar described the incumbent US Presidency as the "most disruptive" in recent history and said the most significant issue for Modi will be to get a sense if there will be policy continuity in the India-US relationship.

"The disruption has been particularly visible in relation to Trump overturning the major policies of Obama.

"The challenge for Modi is to ascertain the Trump commitment to the bilateral. For instance, there is no US ambassador appointed yet. Is this an indicator," asked the Director of Society for Policy Studies.

Bhaskar agreed that personal chemistry of the two leaders would play a role. Despite the hiccups in Indo-US relations, the personal chemistry between Modi and Obama was visible.

"The moot question is whether the meeting will lead to such affable personal chemistry and whether there will be policy continuity in the India-US relationship post-2008 -- when India was accorded exceptional nuclear status due to the high-level political resolve at the time.

"Dealing with Trump is a means to that end. So maybe Modi needs a deft and effective Trump technique," Bhaskar told IANS. "By the way, they are both Twitter addicts."

Analysts admit that recent Trump policy posturing has been less than favourable for India.

"While announcing the US withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, Trump accused India of obtaining unfair and undue advantage and this led to a firm rebuff from Delhi. The Trump promise to reduce immigrant workers and the number of H1B visas is of direct relevance to the Indian IT industry," a foreign policy expert said.

Bhaskar added that Modi would have to convincingly project that India's interests are aligned with US interests. "Modi's 'Make in India' objective has to be harmonized with the Trump commitment to 'Buy American' and 'Hire American'."

Modi and Trump have already had three conversations over telephone.

External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Gopal Baglay said the whole gamut of the India-US relationship would be on the table when the two leaders meet.

"The idea of the bilateral talks will be to give a thrust and direction to the robust and expanding relationship often described as the defining partnership of the 21st century," he said.

Update: 25 June, 2017