US polls figure in Modi's talks with think-tank leaders

  • Yashwant Raj, Hindustan Times, Washington
  • Updated: Jun 07, 2016 16:55 IST
Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets Indian community people after his arrival at Andrews Air Force Base in Washington on Monday. (PTI)

The US presidential election came up at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s interaction with a bipartisan group of leaders from America’s prominent think tanks on Monday evening.

The meeting was attended by Brookings’ Strobe Talbott, a former deputy secretary of state, and Carnegie’s William Burns, also a former deputy secretary of state. Neera Tanden, head of the Center for American Progress, too was present at the meeting.

Officials refused to share details of the discussion, citing the ground rules of the engagement.

India has been closely following the US presidential election campaign, specially the ascent of presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump.

In the run up to Modi’s visit, an Indian official confirmed Trump’s campaign was being closely followed by New Delhi but insisted they had found no reason to worry as yet.

The official’s point, made in as many words, was it was impossible to pin down the famously erratic real estate tycoon to any position as he had flip-flopped on practically every issue.

Pushed by a moderator at a Republican presidential debate in Florida, before he secured the nomination, Trump declared himself against the H-1B temporary visa programme.

Trump said he supported a temporary pause in the programme to study the downsides, essentially Americans being displaced by it, but later he defended the programme.

The H-1B programme is crucial to the bottomline at some of India’s leading IT giants such as Tata Consultancy Services, Infosys, Wipro and Satyam Mahindra.

Trump has also indicated his willingness to seek India’s help, if elected, to deal with Pakistan’s nuclear weapons should they fall into wrong hands, without, once again, specifying details.

But he has been clear on abrogating the Paris accord on climate change, for which India was a leading partner, using the forum to launch a global solar alliance with France.

“We will see,” the Indian official had said, indicating there were larger issues about Trump and his position that needs better clarity.

India tends to believe it understands presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton better, given a long history of interactions with her going back to her days as the first lady.

Hillary first visited India with daughter Chelsea in 1995 before her husband, former president Bill Clinton, who visited in 2000 in the last months of his presidency.

And as President Barack Obama’s secretary of state from 2009 to 2012, Hillary famously said in a speech in Chennai in 2011 that it was time for India to lead.

Modi met the former secretary of state and her husband on his first visit to the US as prime minister in 2014, when she had not yet announced her run, but was widely expected to.

There has been speculation in the Indian-American community that Modi may speak to Hillary and Trump during this visit, on phone if not in person, but officials have all but ruled it out.

There is a precedence, claim those still rooting for an outreach, citing former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s phone conversation with Republican candidate George W Bush in September 2000. But Bush had requested the call, Indian officials had said then.

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