Since the US presidential election in November, analysts and academics around the world have spent considerable time and effort in predicting President Donald Trump’s possible policies on domestic and international issues. A common thread in the ensuing analysis is the “uncertainty” attached to the new president’s future actions. An outsider, Trump has never before held a position in the US Congress. Marked with contradictions and bombastic rhetoric, Trump’s speeches on foreign policy during and after his campaign have not succeeded in lending clarity to his possible international policies. Moreover, his attitude toward US allies as well as competitors remains largely unpredictable.
The Indian case is no different. In April, during one of Trump’s campaign speeches, he mocked an Indian call-center employee. However, he subsequently stressed, “India is great place.” And in October, he declared, “If I’m elected President, the Indian and Hindu community will have a true friend in the White House. That, I can guarantee you.”
As Trump assumed the position of the 45th president of the US, it is worthwhile to look at some potential areas of engagement and disagreements between India and the US in the coming four years.
India-US relations progressed steadily in the last few years. Though historically Republican presidents have been considered better for India-US ties, the former US president Barack Obama paid significant attention to India.
It is being speculated that Trump could request more access to India’s market while following protectionist policies at home. This move would impact firms outsourcing to India and Indian exporters, particularly in the sectors of IT and pharmaceuticals. Currently, India has one of the largest numbers of educated, technically trained people in the world, making it a favored outsourcing destination for some of the largest US firms. Trump’s “Bring Jobs back to America” is a challenge to Modi’s “Make in India.”
Besides trade, migration is another issue under heated discussion. Trump has directed the Department of Labor to investigate “all abuses of visa programs that undercut American workers.” If any visa restrictions are imposed, they would definitely constrain the movement of Indian IT professionals. Indians are believed to be the largest recipients of H-1B visas in the US, and IT companies that outsource to India are among the top sponsors of such visas. Such a move will definitely not go down well with Indian public as well as leaders.
Trump’s policies toward other states will also have an impact on India. According to Raja Mohan, the director of Carnegie India, the way in which Trump chooses to deal with great powers like Russia, China and Japan as well as smaller states in India’s neighborhood like Pakistan and Iran “is important for Delhi.”
US’ continued engagement with its Asian allies like Japan and South Korea would work in India’s favor and its commitment to its position on South China Sea might also bring India and US closer, boosting engagement in the field of security. Moreover, cooperation on India’s anti-terrorism efforts would be welcome.
With regard to Iran, India wouldn’t want many alterations to the US-Iran nuclear deal. The former US-initiated sanctions made it hard for India to engage with Iran and significantly reduced the imports from its neighbor.
For its part, India would seek advancement of economic and security engagement with the US.
It can be said that while there would be differences in opinions and clashes of interests that the two countries would have to negotiate, it seems unlikely that the relationship would take a notable nosedive under Trump.