The president of the United States, Donald Trump, is visiting India on Monday and Tuesday (24th and 25th), in the midst of his re-election campaign. The trip is considered strategic: 2.4 million American voters are of Indian descent. Prime minister Narendra Modi, also from the far right, is one of the world leaders closest to the White House. Less than a month ago, he hosted Jair Bolsonaro and signed 15 cooperation agreements.
According to experts, the frequent meetings between Modi and other heads of state with whom he has an ideological affinity, are an attempt to further his international legitimacy. Besides a slowing in the economy, India is going through much political turmoil, stemming from an amendment to citizenship laws (CAA) signed at the end of 2019. The rule changes, which discriminate against the muslim population, sparked protests in and outside of the country. At least 20 people protesting the change have been murdered.
Three weeks ago, British magazine The Economist published a cover article with the headline “Intolerant India”, referring to the CAA amendment. Would Trump’s India visit be an opportunity for the global right to show it remains united, while at the same time proving that internal conflicts haven’t rocked India’s relationship with the biggest western power?
In Indian journalist Seema Guha’s view, the Modi, Trump and Bolsonaro phenomena have their commonalities and differences. However, they “reflect a moment in which the old right wing narrative is collapsing, and nothing new has emerged to replace it”. The closer they get to one another, the stronger the global right becomes, and they all gain – at least in a media sense - from these meetings.
In an effort to leave a positive image, the Indian government has worked hard to hide a slum with two thousand people living in it, that lies along the route the American president will take. Fourty families that live a mile away from Motera stadium, in the city of Ahmedabad, where the “Namaste, Trump” rally will take place, have been notified by the municipality that they must leave the premises. The mayor’s office denies any evacuation notices due to the event, but instead claims they are fine-combing the area for any “irregular settlements on public lands”. Another measure that is already in place is the installing of huge screens to prevent the slum from being seen from the highway.
More than economic policy
Professor at the Center for Economic studies at Jwaharlal Nehrun (JNU) University, Biswajit Dhar, affirms there is a curious dichotomy in US-India relations: “If we look at the strategic and political spheres, we see that for more than a decade, since the signing of the nuclear deal, the relationship is strengthening. India and the United States are on the same side of major international issues, their differences are being cast asside. However, in regards to the economy, relations are timid and haven’t been tightening over the last few years”.
Donald Trump himself, when commenting on the reasons behind his visit, made it clear that the proximity to the east asian nation is fruit of his affinity for Modi – whatever their qualms may be on the economic front. “India has been harming us for many years with their high tariffs, but I like prime minister Modi very much. He is my friend”, said the president.
One of the major points of contention are subsidies given to farmers by the Indian government, which the United States considers too high. Trump has been trying to make headway into the dairy and poultry markets. There is also some disagreement over the price of fruit and medical devices.
None of this has affected India’s loyalty to the US on political matters. After the Trump administration imposed sanctions on Iran, India stopped importing Iranian oil, restricting its options when buying fuel – almost always, paying more for each barrel.
Trade between India and the United States has more than doubled over the last ten years, reaching 142,6 billion dollars in 2018. The decline in the Indian economy however, has slowed down business, and protectionist policies adopted by both countries do little to boost trading.
Even though no deals may be signed, the media and political impact of the visit should compensate the hours of flying. In New Delhi, Agra and Ahmedabad, cities in Trump’s itinerary, they have put up dozens of billboards with welcome signs and Indian and American colours.
At the stadium in Ahmedabad, the American president’s first stop in India, crowds should surpass 100 thousand. The Indian government also expects more than 1 million people greeting trump along the road from the airport to Motera stadium. Protesters plan demonstrations against the summit in all three cities, but are unlikely to get anywhere near the duo: the security detail involved will be three times larger than during Bolsonaro’s visit.
Edited by: Camila Salmazio