The world has seen how effusive Indian PM Narendra Modi was in the US and the gusto with which he poured eulogy on Trump. Was the US president blushing? Maybe a little because no foreign dignitary has ever made him feel like superman. Kim Jong Un forced a smile when he met the US president, the others keep the greetings formal and at times, it’s just a brief handshake and then it’s ‘you go your way, I’ll go mine.’ In other cases, the antipathy is too much to hide under pleasantries.
No leader of a country has called Donald Trump ‘my friend’ though the Indian PM has broken all records of glorifying the US premier. Some political observers are calling it: first-class acting, while others have called such lionizing cringe-worthy.
Maybe the current global political situation has much to do with the India-USA ‘Bhai bhai’ mood.
Let’s unite and corner China:
Bluntly speaking, the world powers put trade before everything else. As long as commerce is robust, the country has stable growth, the people in it are happy and unemployment is kept in check. So, for trade, all other issues can be relegated.
The world is seeing a very selfish doctrine being propagated where one’s own benefit is the sole objective while the acts of benevolence are done with platitudes of humanism, mainly to deceive others.
The trade war between USA and China means that the USA will tilt towards others for products that once came from China. For India, the cornering of China is for her own benefit because, in Asia, she is locked in a competition to beat China to emerge as an economic power. The military aspiration is there too.
But India needs the sympathetic USA because Modi has just scrapped a special act in Kashmir triggering widespread revulsion and outrage.
Kashmiris are livid and no amount of rhetoric by Modi will convince the world that what has happened is for the best of Kashmir. In fact, most political analysts are unanimous in stating that a volatile Kashmir will be a fertile ground for militancy to grow. The problem is, these radicals may not strike in Kashmir but move away from India and try to attack Indian interests abroad. That means the threat emanating from Kashmir will be a risk factor anywhere, USA included.
At times, during bi-lateral meets, leaders of a nation use placatory language to show how strong the bond is between two nations though in this latest case between India and USA, the line softens appeared a little contrived.
It was not too long ago that USA warned India of sanctions if the latter decided to purchase the S-400 missile systems from Russia.
Also, President Donald Trump’s offer to mediate in the Kashmir complexity was rebuffed by India – something which is not expected of a friend. Perhaps, definitions of friendships vary from country to country.
Trade is the name of the game:
Discussions will include the restoration of the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) for India, which will allow the country to resume select exports and concessional duties. India had exported $5.6 billion worth of goods last year under this regime.
Price controls on medical devices, duty cuts on Harley Davidson bikes and market access to American agricultural commodities, among others, are US trade issues.
As The Economic Times writes: “There is a discussion on India making a commitment to revisit current price controls on medical devices within a certain period of time, if not an immediate release of these caps. The US wants India to do away with price controls on devices with innovative features and keep them separate from mass products.”
India is buying US weapons too:
The ballyhoo over the talk of purchasing Russian S-400 and USA’s threats of sanctions if India goes ahead with the purchase drowns the fact that India has already made a staggering Rs 7 billion deal with US gunmaker Sig Sauer to buy 72,400 assault rifles.
Reportedly, the Indian army was looking for a rifle that would fire more powerful rifle cartridge than the 5.56x45mm intermediate cartridge used by the INSAS.
The SIG716 uses the more powerful 7.62x51mm cartridge.
Armed forces worldwide are adopting more powerful cartridges to deal with the increasing distance in military engagements and pierce armour worn by modern soldiers.
To look at this from another angle: once Indian soldiers get the new rifles, the ones being replaced may be up for sale. So, there is another trade line there and smaller nations may take an interest.
When commerce is king and the persecuted are left in the cold:
In an ideal situation, it would have been commendable to see both India and the USA taking a tangible move to deal with the Rohingya crisis – a very minor issue and one which will not bring in money or bolster either economy. Sadly, Indian PM has never mentioned the Rohingya crisis in any of his foreign tours.
Of course, one may ask: it’s not his bloody problem! Yes, that’s true but since regionally, India is deemed the big boy, there is a common expectation that she would also take interest in regional issues which, unless handled properly and given the right focus, may also provide fertile ground for radicalism and terrorists.
Then, of course, there is the much highlighted Indo-Bangla special relations and the entente cordiale. Friends usually take up the problem of each other as their own and stand united on it.
Bangladesh is the only country in the region which is relentless in her efforts to drum up international support for a peaceful and lasting solution of the Rohingya crisis.
India is silent and that compels us to question the depth of this ‘friendship’. Perhaps, the ‘we are the best of buddies’ image with Modi and Trump is a clever stunt. Or, for the time being, this may actually be solid since so much trade is involved. We are buddies as long as the money is there for both sides–right?
Towheed Feroze is a news editor at Bangla Tribune and teaches at the University of Dhaka.