How Donald Trump's election has exposed Modi’s foreign policy blunder

Ashok Swain
Ashok SwainDec 20, 2016 | 13:24

How Donald Trump's election has exposed Modi’s foreign policy blunder

On November 8, a few hours before American voters elected Donald Trump as the next US president, PM Narendra Modi had come on television to announce that Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes will no longer be legal.

Modi’s abrupt currency ban has caused a huge cash crunch in the country and most of India is struggling to meet day-to-day needs.


The absence of proper planning and preparation for this draconian decision has exposed Modi to severe criticism not only at home but also abroad. It has raised serious questions about his political acumen and administrative competence.

The demonetisation debate has kept the country occupied for the last 40 days to such an extent that it has almost ignored the surprise election of Trump, which has forced the world to take a leap into the unknown.

Since Trump became a serious candidate for the Republican Party’s nomination, a lot has been written on the common traits he shares with Modi. Both Modi and Trump are arrogant, melodramatic and self-admiring and leave no opportunity to project themselves as outsiders and claim the dubious record of being decisive and highly successful.

Before Modi’s election as Prime Minister of India, there was very little clarity over his foreign policy vision. Since his election in May 2014, he has accumulated huge flying miles in nearly 50 foreign trips. His foreign policy has been highly unpredictable and full of flip-flops. The relationship with critical countries in the neighbourhood has deteriorated considerably.

The only "tangible" foreign policy achievement of his has been the so-called Modi-Barack Obama bromance, leading to India’s stronger ties with the US. Modi had gone miles to be seen as close to Obama.


There is no doubt that he is an Obama aficionado. As CM of Gujarat, he used to display Obama’s books on his office table in Gandhi Nagar. While there was nothing wrong in looking up to Obama and being on friendly terms with him, India has actually got little from the US from the frequent high-profile meetings.

A few days after Modi’s last meeting with Obama at the White House, the New York Times in its editorial on June 14, 2016, wrote: “… many analysts puzzled over how and why the two leaders, so different in so many ways, get along. Whatever the reasons, what’s important is that they have significantly deepened the partnership between their two countries. It may be one of Mr Obama’s most important foreign policy achievements.”

Considering the indications coming from Donald Trump, India is not important in his scheme of things. (Photo: AP)

No doubt Obama has been successful in advancing his country’s foreign policy interest, but on the other hand, Modi has forced India to pay heavily for siding with the US.

Under Modi, India has given up its traditional policy of non-alignment and has drifted into a military alliance with America without a suitable national debate or a sensible assessment of the country’s long-term and short-term national interests in the context of proper reading of global trends.


India has offered American forces free access to its military bases to support Obama’s containment strategy vis-à-vis the China-Russia axis. Under Modi, India has practically lost its independence in charting its own bilateral relationship with its increasingly powerful neighbour, China.

By enthusiastically being close to Obama’s America, Modi also has made India lose the time-tested friendship with Putin’s Russia. Russia has not only started selling arms to Pakistan, it even refused to listen to India’s request of withdrawing from its joint military exercise with Pakistan after the terror attack on the Uri camp.

However, president-elect Trump’s "fresh eyes" see American foreign policy priorities and India’s role in it very differently than his predecessor. To Obama, China was the country of concern, but Russia was the number one enemy of the US.

On the other hand, Trump sees China is enemy number one and considers Russian president Vladimir Putin as his friend and plans to work together with Russia to isolate China and to wage a joint war against Islamic fundamentalism in West Asia and North Africa.

Trump, by selecting Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, who has strong ties with Russia, as his secretary of state has given enough indication of his intention to work closely with Russian strongman Putin.

To contain China, Trump has already opened up the Taiwan card and virtually questioned America’s long-standing one-China policy, hoping that it will be enough for China to limit its global power ambition. In Trump’s worldview, India is almost non-existent.

Trump had given his first foreign policy speech on April 27, 2016, in Washington DC. In that speech, he did not mention India by name even once and on the other hand, made it clear that he would ban or make it hard for companies who engage in outsourcing and stop visas for foreign workers if they are a threat to American jobs.

During his campaign, he has given clear indications of reviewing the procedure for granting H1B visas and reducing the number of such visas.That has given enough warning to India to realise that its IT service companies will face serious problems under the Trump presidency.

But that did not deter Hindu American groups and Hindu right outfits in India to come out openly in support of Trump’s election campaign, not only in performing pujas, but also contributing to fundraising and electoral mobilisation.

The main reason for this support was Trump’s Islamophobia. But the Hindu right failed to see Trump’s open concern for "persecution" of Christians around the world: “We have done nothing to help the Christians, nothing, and we should always be ashamed for that, for that lack of action.”

For US president-elect Trump, Modi-led India is a minor player in the US plan to fight Islamic terror and ISIS in West Asia and North Africa, as he expects to do so in alliance with Russia. At the same time, the Modi government is more likely to face Trump’s tantrums for its support to Hindu groups, those who are accused of targeting Christian minorities and missionaries in India.

After his election, Trump has also made a U-turn on his promised harsher action against Pakistan. The reason behind it might be his possible plan to not withdraw 8,000-plus American troops from Afghanistan.

In the past, Trump has criticised Obama’s decision to withdraw troops from Iraq for the rise of ISIS. To maintain troops in Afghanistan, the American administration needs Pakistan more than India.

This has reflected in Trump’s total snub of Modi since being elected as president and calling Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif a “terrific guy” doing “amazing work”. Not only that, Trump has even openly expressed his desire to mediate on the Kashmir dispute, overlooking India’s strong objection to any external involvement.

Considering the indications coming out from Trump, India is not important in his scheme of things. By placing all the eggs in Obama’s basket, Modi has forced India into a very difficult situation in global politics.

While Trump-led America shows no sign of siding with India, India has lost the trust of an old and reliable friend like Russia and has ruined a working relationship and instead got engaged in an open confrontation vis-à-vis China.

Since the Uri attack, Modi and his government have been boasting of isolating Pakistan internationally. The election of Donald Trump has brought that danger to India itself, and for this situation Modi should blame no one but himself.

Last updated: December 20, 2016 | 13:24
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