Trump as US president will be disastrous for Modi and India

Sumit Mitra
Sumit MitraNov 07, 2016 | 15:57

Trump as US president will be disastrous for Modi and India

It hardly ever happened in the past that a US presidential election was watched in India with bated breath, as if it was poll day at home.

In ordinary urban homes, it has no doubt boosted knowledge of American geography way beyond California or New York/New Jersey, where the children have moved and call on Skype twice a week; their parents are now familiar with the "blue wall" states like Maryland or Illinois, the "red wall" zone of South Carolina or Mississippi, and the "swing states" like New Hampshire and Florida.

But if there is real palpitation in Delhi or Mumbai, it is not for who would get the White House but what would happen if Donald Trump wins.

It is quite natural that the present jumpiness of level-headed Americans - let us pray they outnumber those who're not - is incomparably more than that of foreigners. After all, a Trump victory threatens to take America back to the Civil War days; David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard, has declared that Trump is the "best of the lot" in the 2016 election, without the Republican nominee ever seen blushing on that account.

But that's small beer compared to the tenor of his campaign - bigoted, misogynist, hate-filled and so utterly vulgar in taste that it would shame the scriptwriters of B-movies. His profanities are not just casual as his grammar; each of them is a dog whistle to middle America's angry white men who were too lazy - or too sozzled - to get to college and now rile that the better jobs are going to the "immigrants", a hate word that means the Mexican now, but if Tump wins, it may unfold a wide range of skin colours, from yellow to brown and black.

Lurking in Trump's armoury of abuses are a few economic "patriot" missiles that may impact India directly. Like cutting down the US corporate tax rate from 35 per cent to 15 per cent. US corporations went multi-national to avoid the high (and rigorously levied) domestic tax rate, save on labour cost and stay close to the markets. But such a drastic drop in domestic tax rate can be a clarion call for US giants like GE or Ford or Microsoft to fold up their Indian subsidiaries.

In Delhi, Hindu Sena, an ultra-Hindu screwball outfit, has been offering havan and prayers for Donald Trump's victory. (Photo credit: India Today)

Its effect will not be limited to loss in employment and capital. The exit from India of a General Motors or a Cisco implies snapping of a vital pipeline of knowledge. In many nations like India, which have not climbed high enough on the innovation ladder and are dependent on diffusion of know-how from advanced countries, Trump's tax-cut pledge, if realised, will lead to a wave of deindustrialisation.

For Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it'll be particularly ironic as it shows the boomerang flight of his own "Make-in-India" slogan from an industrial behemoth.

Trump's tax policy apart, the cornerstone of his spiel that he'll "make America great again" is to tighten all entry doors to the fabled land of opportunities - be it by the "Great Wall of Mexico" or by putting more squeezes on professional visa like H1B.

To Indian IT leaders like TCS and Infosys, a visa programme like H1B is a lifeline as it enables them to put their skilled yet low-cost employees on client premises in America. Trump calls the programme "unfair", but it is not unusual for presidential nominees to rile against importing cheap labour, Barack Obama having done that, though they pipe down after taking charge.

Till the last decade, IT involved too much repetitive work that required patience rather than skill. It didn't attract American workers. But the industry is undergoing many transformative changes, with introduction of Big Data and Artificial Intelligence, and the space for large-scale exodus of Indian IT workers seems to be shrinking. Trump's warning may accelerate the process.

In Delhi, Hindu Sena, an ultra-Hindu screwball outfit, has been offering havan and prayers for Trump's victory for some time now as he has, by promising to ban the entry of Muslims into the US, caught their imagination.

In strategic terms, if the War on Terror heats up, it is Pakistan that will gain as it is the Pentagon's time-tested guide on such missions. A renewed flow of US arms to Pakistan will vastly multiply India's threat on the western border.

When the need arises for the US President to rap Pakistan across the knuckles, if Trump wins, it is quite likely he'll not remember his own words: "I am a big fan of India." 

Some Indian optimists may think it's a good idea if Trump can be tough with China and force it to devalue its currency and respect intellectual property rights. But it shouldn't gladden India per se as we have neither the work ethic nor infrastructure to move Guangdong to Hyderabad overnight.

Nor will I be happy to pay more for the computer on which I'm writing. On the other hand, a jingoist, xenophobic US, under someone like Trump, will give authoritarianism a chance to think they're right, be it anywhere, including India.

Last updated: November 08, 2016 | 11:53
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