Retaining bipartisan support in the United States
Modi did not endorse Trump. But there was an element of ambiguityUpdated: Oct 02, 2019 18:21 IST
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reference to the United States President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan in 2016 — Ab ki baar, Trump sarkar — at the Howdy Modi event in Houston has created a diplomatic and political controversy. During his Washington trip, external affairs minister S Jaishankar urged people not to misinterpret the statement in response to speculation that this marked an endorsement of Mr Trump for his forthcoming presidential run in 2020. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, too, has intervened in the debate and called the PM’s remark a “fawning endorsement” which had caused problems for India with Democrats.
It is important to first recognise what Mr Modi did not do. He did not back Mr Trump as the presidential candidate. He did not suggest that the next time around too, there must be a Trump sarkar. India was careful in ensuring that the event had a degree of political bipartisanship. The presence of several Democrat leaders at the event, and the speech of the House majority leader Steny Hoyer from the same stage, was to portray how India had supporters across the US political spectrum. Mr Jaishankar’s event with the House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, in Washington is a part of the same optics.
At the same time, it is also important to recognise what Mr Modi did do. By sharing a stage with Mr Trump, and giving him access to a 50,000-strong Indian-American audience who may not be among his natural supporters, the PM did allow Mr Trump to get the sense that he was supportive of his leadership. Mr Trump’s team was quick to tweet that the Indian PM had endorsed the President. Catering to Mr Trump’s personal vanity may well help India diplomatically — and was probably a considered call. But it is important, as Mr Jaishankar has done, to allay any apprehensions that India is intervening in US politics and has favourites. Delhi will do business with whoever is in White House.