Friday, August 19th, 2022 01:54:52

Trump or Hillary: Who Should India Align With?

Updated: September 8, 2016 1:44 pm

It is widely feared if Donald Trump actually wins, it would be disastrous for not just India but any other significant country not to have policy contingencies. India, as one of the fastest growing economies of the world is positioned at the forefront of that dilemma; what implications will India have in the event of Trump’s win. In an increasingly integrated economy it would augur well for India’s future to be prepared with fiscal contingencies, irrespective of which political way the pendulum swings in the November elections. Trump’s campaign motto is “Make America Great Again”. By extension, a related corollary in India is whether he will make Indo-US Relations ‘great’?

The answers to the above questions are as blurred as some of Trump’s answers on various issues, including on India. Trump has flip-flopped on his statements and there is no clarity on his future policies vis-à-vis India. However, a lot is contingent on the economic and strategic policies of the US under its next President, not just for India but for the whole world. Trump in this regard has proved to be inconsistent with lack of clarity and various flip-flops.

The question whether Donald Trump or Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton would be good for India has been debated by analysts vigorously, especially within India. It is a natural dilemma that India faces in the face of an ugly bickering between the two Presidential nominees and amidst the likelihood of an unprecedented tightening of US immigration laws. Fears in this regard started gaining currency not just in the US but the rest of the world, after the Republican candidate Donald Trump evoked the possibility of ‘walling’ the US’ borders and also making immigration laws very stern. Doing so, it has been argued would bolster further the country’s already strong checks and balances against terror elements entering the country.

India is the largest beneficiary of the US H1B visa which benefits skilled labourers going to the US. Recent reports suggest that so far just in this year, Indian workers received 72 per cent of all the H1B visas the US issued worldwide. Similarly Indian workers received 30 per cent of all L visas for long term business travel visas issued by the US. Although Indians do not lead in illegal immigrants to the US, a significant number of immigrants over stay their visas. This has direct policy consequence from the deportation plan of Donald Trump; linking illegal immigration with unemployment in the US.

Trump’s India Connection


Donald Trump may have issued a flurry of protectionist statements but the real estate tycoon and Republican nominee for President of the United States is eyeing growth in his business in India. The company has two super luxury projects in the country at present, including a twin tower 46-apartmenet block with Panchshil Realty in Pune and an under-construction 300-apartment project in the heart of Mumbai at Lower Parel with Lodha Group.  The company is targeting Mumbai, Pune, National Capital Region, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad and Goa among locations with good demand for super luxury properties. It also has business interests in hospitality, golf courses and casinos. It has projects in the pipeline in north and east India and is actively looking for projects in the south. It aims to make India the largest revenue generating market for Trump after North America over the next 10 years.

Trump’s campaign, in many respects, is a retrospective balancing act after his initial rhetoric targeting Muslims proverbially shot through the roof leading to withdrawal of support of some of his own Republican clique. A series of terrorist attacks across the world, France, Brussels, Dhaka, Afghanistan, Turkey, and California and the Orlando mass shooting within the US, have fueled the Trump campaign. Trump has depicted himself as the prospective messiah against Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism, leading to a sway in support for him. Unfortunately, his idea of profiling people, religion and places of worship has also found currency. Here: India should pause to think what principles does it believe in, and whether or not there needs to be a consonance before jumping on the Trump bandwagon.

Although there is a history of better relations between India and the US under Republican Presidents in the US (consider George Bush here), this time it is a different ball game altogether. Mr. Trump is a rare non-politician to have entered the Presidential race. His ways and policies could be significantly unpredictable for India-US relations, given his flip-flops on India; as on any other policy issue. Trump has famously accused Indian immigrants of “stealing jobs” from the US. His campaign manager too is known for his opposition to H1 B Visas.


“Hindus for Trump”: Is India?

The Trump campaign has found ground among Indians too, both in the US and India. In May earlier this year, a section of the ‘Hindu Sena’ organized ‘hawan’ at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar to seek divine intervention in catapulting Trump to victory in the upcoming elections. Another group celebrated his birthday. In the US a group called “Hindus for Trump” is campaigning for Trump’s victory. It runs a Facebook page besides organizing campaigns for Donald Trump. However, the most high profile support has come from the Indian-American industrialist Shalabh Kumar. Kumar, the head of the Hindu Republican Coalition has given $1.1 million to the Trump campaign. His support for Trump is premised on the expectation that the latter will profile and monitor mosques in the US and also cut off funding for Pakistan. Furthermore, there have been various supporting activities organized by the Republican Hindu Coalition, an Indian American lobby group. The Indian-Americans for Trump 2016 is another such group.

As bitter as it sounds, Indian-Americans’ rooting for Trump is largely based on the latter’s call “for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” It is quite unexpected for America to “shut its doors to the world” despite Trump’s call to do, even if he becomes the enxt President of the US; given the country’s immigrant history and inclusive credentials.

Trump Vs Hillary

On the foreign policy front, it has been understood in some sections that a Trump Presidency would help India, especially against China. Such expectations accord itself to the rather head-on attitude of the Republican candidate and America’s growing competitive coexistence with China. Albeit Trump is expected to be disastrous with foreign policy, his economic policies will be watched carefully. India maintains a balanced relationship with the US in both strategic and economic dimensions, which places it in a relatively good position to accrue economic benefits under the next president. Trump’s focus on reducing the trade surplus with China, which sat at $366 billion in 2015, could see India emerge as a potential gainer in trade relations with the US. India’s currently fastest growing GDP rate and a rapidly emerging defence industry places it at the forefront of the economies that the US seeks to improve bilateral trade ties with. The US-India trade surplus too, is highly stacked against India, giving opportunity to both the countries to take corrective measures under the next President. However, when it comes to India’s relations with China under a possible Trump Presidency, India also runs the risk of getting overwhelmed by further increase in US-China trade dependence, given the Wharton graduate’s business acumen.

Conflict between India and the US under a possible Trump Presidency could arise from India’s stated reluctance to join any multilateral or bilateral coalition against Islamic fundamentalism. Trump’s expectation from India could be on the line toed by his Indian-American supporters in the US. However, the situation domestically in India would not be in sync with such expectations, given India’s rather neutral stance to requests for military involvement in the past, domestic unrest in Kashmir, and a possible incitement of other fundamentalist groups within India.

Donald Trump’s persistent rant against job losses for Americans due to outsourcing, could place India’s in the crosshairs of Trump’s conservatism. Trump has emphasized that he will block the flow of cash to other countries by bringing back jobs to the American homeland. While that may sound like election rhetoric, Trump could well be making efforts in that direction if he is elected. Bringing back outsourced jobs to the US is an issue that finds bipartisan support in the US, as the issue hits the economy directly. Both Hillary and Trump could be expected to fiddle with the outsourcing issue, although the methods employed could be significantly different. Hillary might subtly follow the Obama way and gradually curtail outsourcing of jobs a few years down the line in her Presidency, as opposed to making it an election issue. Donald Trump, on the other hand, can be expected to double down on outsourcing from the word go, as has been often emphasized in his speeches. Trump very early in his Presidential Primary had remarked that India is taking away jobs from the US, besides assuring American public that “it is not going to happen anymore”.

How will a Hillary Clinton Presidency look like for India? Hillary is expected to largely continue on the path set by the Obama Presidency. She does not share very many differences with the incumbent lame-duck President, having served as the Secretary of State under President Obama from 2009 to 2013, and also due to her similar Party ideals as him. Hillary’s personal outreach to India, which she enjoys through her friends both inside and outside the political circles, including within the Media, would be a definitive edge that Donald Trump would not have. Her diplomatic past, political family and a former US President beside her as the foremost adviser, place Hillary ahead of Donald Trump as a seasoned contender. To that extent, it would appear that dealing with Hillary could be routine and predictable for India, as opposed to Donald Trump’s possibly uncanny, unpredictable and unconventional ways.

If India were to employ drastic measures in its foreign policy formulations in the coming decade, it would make sense to embark on Trump’s provocative agendas; albeit always with the risk that Trump might disown all that he has sworn as his goals. For instance, even if Trump goes on to win, his dream of building a wall at the US-Mexico border would be almost impossible to achieve given the estimated costs and its inherent impracticality. However, India understands that any escalation in its modest regional and global goals could throw regional balance out of gear.

Under Hillary, India is likely to continue on the roadmap laid down by the bilateral agreements and the strategic partnership between the two countries since 2005. In the recent past, the two sides have also signed bilateral defense agreements such as the LEMOA and the US-India Joint strategic vision for the Asia-Pacific and the Indian regions. The two countries have also signed the logistics agreement even as US Secretary of State, John Kerry, is in India this week. These achievements leave big shoes to be filled in the Oval Office, in so far as India-US relations is considered. An unhindered continuance of President Obama’s achievements can only be expected only under Hillary Clinton. Trump can largely expected to make foreign policy tweaks, not just concerning India but other countries as well. And, it will come with both risk and unpredictability.

In so far as the bilateral conundrum Pakistan is considered, it would be safer for India to bet with Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. In the past, Hillary has proved to be an ardent critic of Pakistan’s inability in controlling terrorism in its neighborhood, especially in controlling the Haqqani network from attacking US interests in Afghanistan. In her famous analogical reference to an old story, she once famously proclaimed; “you can’t keep snakes in your backyard and expect them to only bite your neighbor”.

More importantly, the Obama Administration has been tightening the financial noose on Pakistan to pressurize the latter to control terror emanating from its soil and subsequent spill over to other neighboring countries such as India, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. The US has blocked $300 million in concessional military aid to Pakistan recently besides refusing to sell subsidized F 16 Fighter Aircraft to Pakistan.

The Democratic party under Obama’s successive terms has ushered in a new era of bilateral relationship. America’s support for India’s UNSC and NSG bids are typical examples of the importance both the countries have achieved for each other’s interests. The US has come a long way in bringing India to the level of its important allies. The two countries have achieved a thriving trade and investment relationship. US-India bilateral trade reached $109 billion in 2015, up from $37 billion in 2005. Irrespective of who swears oath as the next President of the US, India-US relations are expected to grow without much hiccups riding on a buoyant trend from the past decade in economic and strategic arenas.

Quite maturely, India has distanced itself from showing any preference for either candidate. This has been visible during multiple visits to the US by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, when he deliberately stayed away from meeting any Presidential candidate. India’s nuanced neutrality in diplomacy could pay it well in the end.

(The writer is an Assistant Professor at Netaji Institute For Asian Studies, Kolkata)

by Vivek Mishra

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