It was shaming for us when even Narendra Modi, whose party is so high on patriotism, raised the subject of H-1B visas with Barack Obama. It amounted to begging the United States president to give jobs to skilled Indians whom our government has spent a fortune in training but whom our lumbering underdeveloped economy can't accommodate. The H-1B visa is their coveted lifeline to the American Dream.
That is one reason why I think Indians need not look on Donald Trump's possible move to the White House as an unmitigated disaster. Oh yes, I know all about the Republican contender's unsavoury reputation at home. But I am talking statecraft, not morality.
Looked at from a pragmatic point of view, his reservations about H-1B non-immigrant visas that enable American companies to employ highly-trained foreigners for a pittance in specialty occupations for a specified period might shock educated Indians into some sense of self-respect.
It made me cringe to read that Indians grabbed 86 per cent of the H-1B visas issued in 2014 whereas China, which accounts for the third largest immigrant group in the US, after Mexico and India, uses only five per cent. The explanation is that while China has created opportunities at home for its best talent, boastful Indian nationalists squander energy in futile arguments over symbols - flags, beef, pro-Pakistani slogans, and chants like "Bharat Mata ki Jai" - while neglecting the substance of legitimate national pride. Like primitive producers of primary products, India exports jobless manpower.
Norman Matloff, professor of computer science at California University, wrote in The Washington Post that "the most appealing feature of the H-1B programme to employers is that visa holders are de facto indentured servants… Employers can underpay and overwork H-1Bs at will, without fear of the workers' moving to another firm." He compared "these firms of the new economy" with "the old economy of 200 years ago - when indentured servitude was in vogue".
All migration betrays the home country's failure. But the scramble for H-1B visas exposes how far - despite boasts - we lag behind proudly self-sufficient economies. There are two other reasons why Trump might turn out to be useful for us.
|Trump recognises the responsibility that goes with India's economic potential.|
First, even if he doesn't nurse romantic notions about India like John F Kennedy or illusions about Indian democracy like George W Bush, he sees this country as a stabilising force in Asia.
Second, unlike any other foreign leader I know of, the 69-year-old real estate billionaire has put his money on India. As a politician, he might gamble with his country's fate. As a shrewd businessman, he won't risk his business assets. Although he hasn't invested his own funds here, two ambitious projects through licensees means he has invested his reputation.
Trump recognises the responsibility that goes with India's size, population, stable democracy and economic potential. Calling Pakistan "probably the most dangerous country in the world" because of its nuclear weapons, he described India as "the check to Pakistan… They have their own nukes and have a very powerful army". It's not necessary for India to toe Trump's harder line on China but that, too, is an invitation to play a positive role in holding the peace in Asia.
The main reason why he will be good for India is that he is a stakeholder in our prosperity. "It has been my desire for many years to be involved in a great project in Mumbai, and it is my honour to bring the Trump lifestyles to the citizens of this truly global metropolis," he said.
As he says, "I have big jobs going up in India… India is doing great." He wants to capitalise on his brand in India. A 2010 initiative didn't succeed, but in August 2012, Panchshil Realty announced the Trump Towers Pune luxury residential property.
Still under construction though the completion date has passed, the project features "two striking glass façade towers of 23 storeys each, offering 46 spectacular single-floor residences".
The Lodha Group launched Trump Tower Mumbai, an 800-ft 75-storey skyscraper in Mumbai's Worli district, in 2014. The gold and glass three- and four-bedroom apartments of over 2,000sqft each with indoor jacuzzis, Poggenpohl kitchen cabinets and automatic toilets cost $1.6 million and more. Thanks to Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, it's fashionable to affect a disdain for wealth.
Nehru was horrified on his first visit to New York when someone mentioned the many millions of dollars sitting round the lunch table. "I haven't come with a begging bowl," he retorted testily when asked how much aid India needed. But Americans aren't hypocritical about acknowledging that self-interest, especially financial self-interest, determines attitudes. They don't pretend that foreign policy is fashioned solely out of goodwill and idealism.
Yes, they do weave myths about democracy, but on the whole they are realistic enough to admit the power of money.
Tribeca Developers, representing Trump here, claims he and his sons are "extremely bullish on India" and plan on to expand to many more Indian cities. I hope they are encouraged to do so, whatever his political future.
(Courtesy of Mail Today.)