What Steve Bannon's exit from the Trump administration means for India

President's former chief strategist played a leading role in chalking out new H1-B visa rules.

 |  5-minute read |   25-08-2017
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Twenty per cent of this country is immigrants. Is that not the beating heart of this problem?” said Steven Bannon during the course of a radio show in March 2016, who till recently was the chief strategist of the Trump administration. He further argued, “Engineering schools are filled with people from South Asia and East Asia... They’ve come in here to take these jobs, American students can’t get engineering degrees; they can’t get into these graduate schools because they are all foreign students. When they come out, they can’t get a job.” He also blamed, “The globalists gutted the American working class and created a middle class in Asia.”

Bannon often describes himself as "economic nationalist". He is also well known for his anti globalisation rhetoric. He was working as executive chair of the far-right news website Breitbart, which has always rallied against Jews and Muslims, prior to joining Donald Trump’s election campaign as chief executive. Later he was appointed as chief strategist and senior counsel to President Trump in January 2017.

But seven months later, on August 18, 2017,  Steven Bannon stepped down from the post. The 63-year-old, Steven Banon has had a multi-faceted career path, having worked in the navy, investment, entertainment & media and chief strategist, but he has never minced words with regard to "white supremacy."

Bannon often lashed out against the existing immigration policy of the Obama Administration and China on trade matters as he said, “We’re at economic war, in all their literature. They’re not shy about saying what they’re doing. One of us is going to be a hegemon in 25 or 30 years and it’s gonna be them if we go down this path.”

His exit from the Trump administration has been perceived as the victory of the globalists such as President Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump, his son in law Jared Kushner and “New York faction”, whose anti-globalist rhetoric clashed with their business interests and free-market views. Ivanka Trump Marks LLC applied for numerous new trademarks worldwide following Trump’s win last year, including in China, the Philippines, Canada, Puerto Rico and the US.

The key question, however is, is the likely impact for India – both in the context of economics as well as foreign policy. India has high stakes in the United states of America.  According to Indian Brand Equity Foundation, India’s technology and BPM sector (including hardware) are likely to generate revenues of $160 billion during FY16 compared to $146.5 billion in FY15.

The Indian IT and ITeS industries, which draw a major part of their earnings — 60 per cent and upwards — from the US market, will suffer if US companies reduce their outsourcing spends. Apart from this, Indians have been the biggest beneficiaries of the H-1B visa programme over the years,  with as many as 70 per cent of the total H-1B visa petitions approved being for Indians.

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As per the new visa regime introduced by the Trump Administration, the minimum wage of an H1-B visa holder is to be $130,000 per annum. This clause has rendered Indian software professionals uncompetitive in the American job market. A consequence of the new regime has made it almost impossible for Indian software programmers to secure entry-level computer programming jobs.

Steven Bannon played a very important role in chalking out new H1-B visa regime. But the exit of Steven Bannon doesn’t guarantee respite for India from inward looking economic policies of Trump’s Administration. India should not expect any change in Trump administration's inward looking economic policies because of a number of reasons.

One, President Trump himself repeatedly echoed similar views right from his presidential election campaign. Second, Peter Navarro, the head of a new White House National Trade Council, earlier targeted the manufacturing jobs but later he made it explicitly clear,  that he will focus on the service sector by unwinding those supply chains.

Third, Steven Bannon may not be officially part of the administration, but his foot soldiers of "Economic Nationalism" are still there at every level in the administration to implement his ultra-nationalist agenda. He was deeply committed to implementing this agenda at a granular level — someone who cared about policy details and lower-level personnel appointments, rather than just presidential tweets or statements. Bannon appointed like-minded people into critical administration position — for instance, he appointed anti-immigration hardliners Sessions and Miller to implement the nationalist agenda.

While Bannon’s insular economic policies, as well as racist instincts, did cause discomfort in India, he pulled no punches with regard to China, something which India was not unhappy with. He is supposed to have remarked:

“We’re at economic war, in all their literature. They’re not shy about saying what they’re doing. One of us is going to be a hegemon in 25 or 30 years and it’s gonna be them if we go down this... To me, the economic war with China is everything. And we have to be maniacally focused on that. If we continue to lose it, we’re five years away, I think, ten years at the most, of hitting an inflection point from which we’ll never be able to recover”

Peter Navarro himself has had held strong anti-China views and criticised the Chinese for currency manipulation. Apart from this, he has written books on China such as Death by China, Crouching Tiger and The Coming China Wars.

It remains to be seen whether Bannon’s exit will lead to a fundamental rethink in the Trump administration vis-à-vis India on economic issues. The US President’s convergence with New Delhi on strategic issues was evident from his television address, pertaining to his administration’s Afghanistan policy, to the US nation on August 21, as well as increasing convergences between India and the US with regard to security issues in the Indo-Pacific region.

(Co-authored by Sandeep Sachdeva, independent policy analyst.)

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Writer

Tridivesh Singh Maini Tridivesh Singh Maini @tridiveshsingh

The writer is a New Delhi-based policy analyst associated with Jindal School of International Affairs, Sonipat.

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