With US First Mantra, What Would Trump Presidency Mean for India?

Donald Trump’s ambiguous stand on India-Pakistan relations doesn’t bode well for Delhi, writes Anirudh Bhattacharyya.

4 min read
(Photo: AP/ Altered by <b>The Quint</b>)

On Tuesday afternoon, Duncan Hunter, a Republican member of the United States House of Representatives and Congressional Co-Chair for Donald Trump’s campaign, appeared for an interaction with the Washington-based USINPAC, a bipartisan political action committee that works to promote India-US relations.

Hunter, a Congressman from California, spent about half-an-hour as a surrogate for the Trump campaign during the course of the Google Hangout, trying to articulate what the New York billionaire and reality TV phenomenon’s administration would mean for India and for Indian-Americans. Hunter’s interaction was often marred by a choppy connection that rendered many of his remarks incoherent. That may just be emblematic of the Trump policy framework towards India, one that has, so far, been marked by statements that could be considered disjointed.

Hunter can’t be blamed for that disconnect. After all, he repeatedly stressed Trump’s positions on various issues, including those relating to India would become clearer in a couple of months. At this time, though, they are as clear as the waters of the Yamuna.


‘America First and Foremost’ Mantra

On the issue of H1B visa, Hunter said the system of legal immigration “needs to be updated.” While campaigning during the Florida primary earlier this year, Trump had come out angrily against those temporary work permits. Now, the pivot. Hunter explained that the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party for the presidential election in November, is “amenable” to maintaining the visa levels since he “understands” the need for highly skilled workers in the technology sectors. If true, that is a classic Trump move that reminds one of a patient with bipolar disorder. He changes topics as often as Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and recently described many policies that won him a record primary vote as merely “suggestions.”

Hunter also pointed out that Trump wants to “lead” on the India-US relationship but will follow a mantra of “America first and foremost” whether dealing with “India, China or Norway, for that matter.”

Donald’s aping of the accent of a call center representative from India, or clubbing India among those nations stripping America of employment were all suggestive enough, but we can all hope those too were simply suggestions.

Right-wing Hindu Sena activists perform  rituals to ensure a win for US presidential candidate Donald Trump in New Delhi, May 11, 2016. (Photo: AP)
Right-wing Hindu Sena activists perform rituals to ensure a win for US presidential candidate Donald Trump in New Delhi, May 11, 2016. (Photo: AP)

Will Donald ‘Trump’ India?

  • Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump’s snide remarks as well as ambiguous stand on Pakistan doesn’t bode well for India.
  • Republican Party member Duncan Hunter echoed similar views stating that Trump’s foreign policy would be dictated by ‘America First and Foremost’ mantra.
  • Just like Barack Obama, Trump would also continue to lean on Pakistan and lend military aid to the country.
  • While on one hand Trump describes Pakistan as a ‘dangerous nation’ generating controversy, on the other, his coterie comprises lobbyists for a Kashmiri separatist group, hinting at contradiction in stand on South Asia.

Inclination Towards Pakistan

As for America’s role in the India-Pakistan equation, Hunter noted interrogatively: “How do we help India check Pakistan and, at the same time, help Pakistan check themselves?” By bankrolling bad behaviour, possibly? As with the Obama administration rewarding Pakistan with an F-16s package for turning Afghanistan into America’s 21st century Vietnam, Trump could just keep doing that. Hunter said this was his take, since the issue had not been addressed by Trump, but the only “influence” the US enjoyed over Pakistan was through military-to-military ties and military sales.

Some Indian hawks may have rejoiced when, in September last year, Trump spoke of Pakistan as “probably the most dangerous nation” in a radio interview.

India’s the check to Pakistan. And you have to get India involved. They have their own nukes, they have a very powerful army. They seem to be the real checkmate. They seem to be the real group, and I would start talking at that level very, very quickly.
Donald Trump

More recently, Trump described Pakistan as “semi-stable” and Hunter’s views sync into that. And they would still keep arming Pakistan; making them cheque mates? The mind boggles at this mindlessness. And then there’s Trump’s campaign advisor Paul Manafort, once a lobbyist for a Kashmiri separatist group in the 1990s, one that has been identified by the FBI as a front for Pakistan’s ISI. There are more contradictions here than in Hillary Clinton’s email controversy.

Hunter doubled down on the “timeout” for Muslim immigration into the United States, though he believed this was “not an issue when it comes to India.”

While about a dozen dolts of the Hindu Sena may have performed a puja in New Delhi for Trump’s success, those tracking the relationship between India and the US can only offer prayers for some clarity to emerge from the static that has so far surrounded Trump.

(Based in Toronto, Anirudh Bhattacharyya is a columnist and author of the humorous political novel, The Candidate)

Also read:

The Trump Phenomenon: Why I Think He’s Going to Win

What Radicalism? A Reality Check on Bernie Sanders’ Foreign Policy

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