Wed, 08 Apr 2020

By Smita PrakashNew Delhi [India], Feb 22 (ANI): Donald Trump's visit next week is the first ever stand-alone trip by a US president to India. When Air Force One touches down at Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport on 24th around noon, he will become the fourth US president to visit India in his first term and the first to visit Gujarat. America is already in an election mode with the Democratic Party conducting their debates before picking their contender who will take on Trump in November of this year, hence these 36 hours will be in as sharp a focus in the US as in India.

Donald Trump also becomes the first American President to visit India with his wife and daughter and son-in-law in tow. Bill Clinton came with daughter not wife, Jackie Kennedy came minus husband, Hillary came minus husband but with daughter. Obama Eisenhower, Nixon, Carter and George W Bush came with wives and not children. Trump is not known not to be too fond of traveling abroad. His Asia visits are few and far between. Hence, this visit in an election year is significant.

None of the children of former presidents were office-bearers in the American President's administration unlike the Trumps. DT's daughter Ivanka, a senior advisor to the President, is no stranger to India, having visited Hyderabad in 2017. Her husband Jared Kushner is advisor to the President and crucial to the President's decision-making process. That all four of them are coming to India is extremely significant because the visit will be high on showmanship and drama while not lacking in substance. Secretaries of Commerce, Energy departments as well as advisors and assistants on Policy, Digital Strategy, National Security are also part of the delegation.

Trump in his election year is keen to shore up as much goodwill as possible. He understands India well by now. The Howdy Modi event in Texas in 2019 must have gone a long way in clearing any doubts where Indian origin Americans and Indians in India stand on India-US relations. It was Dr Manmohan Singh in 2008 who said to George W Bush, "The people of India deeply love you." And this when 'W' was an object of ridicule in the rest of the world and Dr Singh is not known to be an effusive gentleman. But Dr Singh was right when he said "When history is written, I think it will be recorded that President George W Bush played a historic role in bringing our two democracies closer to each other." He was referring to the 123 nuclear deal, of course which ended India's nuclear isolation.

The Presidential visits before Bush were not significant at all. Eisenhower and Carter was about elephant ride, sandalwood garlands, Clinton was with daughter and not wife at the Taj, Agra and a Holi dance, Carters' visit was a blip that was forgotten post-Pokhran, Nixon's one day visit was bleeped out after his nastiness on Bangladesh and Indira Gandhi.

Obamas were the only ones who came twice in two terms, once during Dr Singh's tenure and once in Mr Modi's first term. It can safely be assumed that were Trump to win again, India will be high up on his agenda. He has a peculiar rapport with Modi. He jokes about him and mimics his English accent but seems to be quite taken in with the Indian Prime Minister. Trump doesn't have many friends among world leaders. That he thinks of Modi as one is interesting. Modi on his part is very demonstrative in his affection, hugging the American President whenever there was an opportunity, clutching his hand and walking the stadium at the Howdy Modi event was as much PDA as can possibly be termed acceptable between two heterosexual men.

Trump will surely be suitably impressed by the millions who are expected to welcome him as soon as he lands in Ahmedabad, he will take all the proverbial pictures at Agra with his perfectly coiffured wife and the extremely photogenic daughter and son-in-law. The family pictures at the Taj will also be flashed back home in the US. The wholesome American family in an exotic location. His supporters are sure to flash these in comparison to potential Democratic Presidential nominee Pete Buttigieg whose gay bonafides are toast of the town in liberal media circles but is not supposedly ticking all the right boxes as he is not 'intersectional enough'.

The media contingent traveling with the American President will looking beyond the drama and hype, they will look at tangibles even though expecting it from any administration in its last leg is quite unfair. But then who expects the media to play fair. Not in the US and not in India. India and the US are likely to finalize five pacts, including on trade facilitation, homeland security and intellectual property rights. $2.6 billion deal for 24 Seahawk helis for the Indian Navy is on the cards. The MOU on Homeland Security will have far-reaching impact on the security scenario in the subcontinent particularly in view of the peace agreement that is likely to be signed between the US and Taliban representatives that many in the US are hoping will pave the way for an end to the 18-year long war. The implications of the pact could result in increased Indian participation in global supply chain in security, transnational crime and terrorism.

Final contouring is also taking place to a possible pact between Indian Oil and Exxon on LNG pipeline infrastructure. ExxonMobil has been planning to enhance its presence in India's gas market and signed a preliminary agreement with IOC in October last year.

The US has always been keen to scale up its trade with India, similar to say the Japanese model but India has played a reluctant customer. Trump even calling India a "tariff king". However, he has also expressed grudging respect for Modi for pushing back a giant like the US if it is in his national interest. Trump has tried to play down expectations back home saying it might happen but that could be later this year.

Indian origin Americans are also pinning their hopes on this visit to go beyond hype and deliver on substance. Almost every US presidential candidate in the US today has Indian origin Americans in their strategy teams. There are influential Indian Americans in think-tanks, political interest groups, commentators on TV all keen to see the visit be a success and thereby give more muscle to the fastest growing racial group in the US. (ANI)

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