US President Donald Trump arrived in Ahmedabad to an impressive welcome. Accompanied by First Lady Melania Trump, daughter Ivanka, son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and important members of his administration, he was received very warmly by PM Narendra Modi.
Why he said namaste
The two leaders of the free world hugged and posed for the international media. Thousands greeted Trump's cavalcade as it traversed the 22km route from the airport to the Motera stadium.
There, to a cheering crowd of over one lakh enthusiastic Gujaratis, Trump said, "Namaste! America loves India."
He and Melania had already visited Mahatma Gandhi's Sabarmati Ashram. His Indian roadshow had begun very well. The speeches of both leaders were along expected lines.
Trump ended with the resounding declaration, "We love you India, we love you very much."
What should we make of Trump's India visit?
If there's one thing that those who have followed his controversial and beleaguered presidency know, it is this: Trumpology is no exact science. Because like its object of study, some might say obsessive disdain, it is unpredictable and unverifiable both in its methods and outcomes. An excuse, substitute, cover-up for not being able to figure out the world’s still most powerful and incomprehensible man: Trump.
Trumpology is an admission that we are unable to understand what makes Trump tick. Subversive, abrasive, arrogant, vindictive, misogynistic, undiplomatic, ill-informed, bullying, larger-than-life, grandstanding, self-serving, narcissistic — and similar adjectives have been routinely bandied about by Trump-watchers to describe or deride him.
But they fail to capture or define him. Nor, indeed, are they helpful in explaining his continuing appeal or impact. But one thing about him is true: Trump's ability to survive blame, censure, and relentless, daily, criticism.
He is undoubtedly the most reviled, abused, even hated President in US history. That nothing seems to stick to him has earned him the sobriquet 'Teflon Trump'. This includes an impeachment motion. Trump not only manages, repeatedly, to dodge guilt, culpability, and liability, but also escape censure, conviction, defeat.
In fact, he comes across as the victim of such abuse. What is more, his Republican vote base still solidly behind him, he is likely to win the presidential elections again. Especially if pitted against him is a Democratic nominee like the would-be socialist, Bernie Sanders.
History of president visits
Since Bill Clinton's March 2000 visit, every US president has come to India. Clinton addressed the Indian Parliament, visited Agra, Jaipur and Mumbai. If George W Bush visited once during his two terms, Barack Obama came twice, even becoming the first US President to be the chief guest at India's Republic Day in 2015.
Before Clinton, both George Bush senior and Ronald Regan gave India a miss. The latter passed through Delhi on his way from Taipei to London, but didn't alight. Earlier, Jimmy Carter developed strong ties of affection with India during his visit on January 1, 1978.
The broader question, despite the apparent bonhomie and optics of such high profile state visits may be reduced to a simple question: How important are bilateral ties for the US and India? It is clear that for the US, India is more important than ever.
Not only in terms of our rising economic power, but as a geo-political counter-balance to China. Indo-US cultural and ideological ties, especially with the increasing clout of the Indian diaspora in the US, have never been as significant as today.
Trump also needs the theatrics of a big overseas triumph as he makes his rebid for the presidency in November. His friend Modi is sure to provide him mega events, extravagantly staged, in the PM's own home state of Gujarat.
The fine print
Nothing was left to chance, knowing Modi's penchant for perfection in event management. Trump, just out of an intensely partisan, failed impeachment trial, is sure to end up looking at least slightly better after his India visit.
India, too, could benefit from a closer strategic and technological partnership with the US. While our defence cooperation with Russia is of overriding importance, our equipment from our old and trusted ally is getting obsolete. We need desperately to upgrade both our military hardware and software.
Inking the $3 billion deal for state-of-the-art combat helicopters with the US is a step in that direction. We must also ensure that the spillover of whatever the US does in Afghanistan doesn't turn the direction of jihadi terror back towards India. The true impact of 'Namaste Trump' will far exceed the hype or the fine print.
It is the overall and long-term strengthening of ties between the world's largest democracies that augurs well for the world's future. That impression is the real desideratum of Trump's visit.
Modi summed it up when he predicted a "far greater and closer relationship," ending his speech with "Long Live Indo-US friendship." The Modi-Trump road show began with a big bang and ended on the right note despite the deadliest riots in Delhi in recent memory which, some say, were orchestrated to coincide with Trump's visit.
In his solo press conference on February 25, the US President wisely dodged controversial issues. On the continuing violence in Delhi, he said "that is up to India" to handle.
(Courtesy of Mail Today)