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Trump’s 100 days: India can expect surprises

During his campaign, Donald Trump only spoke well of two world leaders - India’s Modi and Russia’s Putin. But his policies in office over the 100 days he’s been president have been too uncertain to determine what the US-India relationship might be like on his watch

columns Updated: Apr 28, 2017 19:46 IST
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
During his election campaign, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was just about the only foreign leader to receive praise from candidate Trump, other than Russian President Vladimir Putin. But a little over three months since Trump occupied the White House, the early calculations haven’t quite added up.
During his election campaign, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was just about the only foreign leader to receive praise from candidate Trump, other than Russian President Vladimir Putin. But a little over three months since Trump occupied the White House, the early calculations haven’t quite added up.(REUTERS)

Since this is the season of the Indian Premier League, a slapdash analogy is timely: Imagine a batsman during a 20-overs encounter. While the strokes may at times appear scintillating, such an innings is forged with not one, but many elements of risk.

The innings that is being played out by US President Donald Trump, now at the 100-day mark, is just that – unconventional and haphazard. Commentators haven’t been overly impressed nor the purists bowled over.

The easy part came early with a flurry of executive orders for which he fielded few restrictions, other than judicial blocks to efforts at stemming immigrant traffic from seven Muslim nations. The follow-on has been more challenging. Those, though, were largely domestic concerns that do not redound upon the world, unless it’s the case of a government neighbouring the US like Mexico, and increasingly, Canada.

But, whether it’s with the mother of all bombs unloaded along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border or the strafing of a Syrian airfield, Trump’s recent actions are hitting closer home.

New Delhi will pay attention to how this plays out. During his election campaign, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was just about the only foreign leader to receive praise from candidate Trump, other than Russian President Vladimir Putin. But a little over three months since Trump occupied the White House, the early calculations haven’t quite added up.

There is the concern over protectionism, that aspect which involves work visas like the coveted H1B and its impact on Indian majors in the IT-services sector and their operations in the US. Coupled with the Trump effect of racist of attacks on Indian-Americans, including one that turned murderous, this initial phase has been one of a phobia that’s causing students and tourists to skirt the States.

Following the original contacts between India and the Trump transition team, there was optimism that a US-Russia rapprochement could wean Moscow away from its growing appetite for things Chinese. Instead, the chill has returned and the Kremlin appears to be reacting to this White House with the same cold shoulder it showed to the Barack Obama Administration. Meanwhile, North Korea’s latest missile-rattling has seen Trump courting China’s President Xi Jinping. From tirades to trading plaudits has been a short hop. All of this is occurring as the United States lacks an ambassador in New Delhi.

The American president has displayed a penchant not just for pivoting but pirouetting, making the task of international interlocutors one that is head-spinning. Trump is essaying an innings that changes course regularly, making it hazardous for those attempting to keep track to predict form. It may well have caused enough head-scratching to create permanent follicular damage.

The Trump presidency so far is one where we are uncertain as to what the boundaries are.

The current bilateral arrangement may not be deep sixed, but the predictable volatility of the Trump doctrine may cause many hair-raising days ahead.

Anirudh Bhattacharyya is a Toronto-based commentator on American affairs

The views expressed are personal