Trump's visit takes India forward

Never has a US President -- as the leader of the oldest democracy -- showered such unadulterated praise and heartfelt appreciation on the Prime Minister of the largest democracy in the world, as Donald Trump did for Narendra Modi in his address at the jam-packed Motera stadium at Ahmedabad, on his maiden trip to India.

Declaring that "America loves India and will always be a friend of Indian people", he referred to the landslide victory of Modi in the "largest democratic election ever held any where in the world" and described India as a "miracle of democracy" with its diversities, noble people and a tolerant character.

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He particularly extolled India for the freedom of worship that it gave to all communities. The US President referred to Prime Minister Modi as a "special friend" and contended that "America-India relationship was now inclusive and exhaustive and not just another relationship". Listing the achievements of Prime Minister Modi's governance he pointed out how "12 Indians were pulled out of poverty every minute" and how every village now had electricity.

Highlighting the new level of defence cooperation between US and India he reiterated that he and Prime Minister Modi were working for the biggest economic deal -- adding in jest that Modi was a tough negotiator.

A notable part of Trump's speech was his categorical denunciation of radical Islamic terror as the biggest threat to both India and US and an affirmation upfront of their expectation that Pakistan must crack down on the terrorists operating from its soil.

The President declared that the US had destroyed the Caliphate in Syria and recalled how its founder Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was eliminated. This zero tolerance towards Islamic extremism and terrorism remains one of the most important binding factors in the India-US relations under the Trump regime.

It is unfortunate that in many tinted writings of strategic analysts during the run up to the Trump visit, the "inadequacies" of trade relationship between the two countries were selectively highlighted to create a construed negativity around it and the high visibility of the "Namaste Trump" event in Ahmedabad -- that has expectantly added to the credentials of India on the world stage and put a seal of continuity on Indo-US strategic partnership -- decried for no reason. What is worse, the American President was ridiculed in an undignified manner just out of spite for the proven friendship Prime Minister Modi had built with him to strengthen this country's economic and defence perspectives.

The 'big picture' around the visit is that Indo-US relations have bloomed to the advantage of both the countries during the Modi regime, that they are propelled by the top men on both sides whose personal chemistry had brought about an exceptional convergence on strategic goals and that on economic and trade issues the two largest democracies had a basic understanding that mutually beneficial solutions could always be found with further negotiations. For the first time in the post-Cold War era India is handling the US without an ideological baggage and consciously opting for some give and take to advance our national interests in the spheres of both development and security.

The opposition here spent a lot of energy to run down Modi government for doing a lot of paint work to make up the 'atmospherics' for the drive of the US presidential cavalcade at Ahmadabad and for creating the optics of a spectacle for the 'Namaste Trump' event to match the 'Howdy Modi' of Houston last year. This sounded petty.

The opposition also prematurely talked of 'failure' of the Modi government to clinch a comprehensive trade deal with the US at one go- forgetting that US has emerged as the biggest trading partner of India leaving China behind and that India continued to have a trade surplus in relation to America. All of this unfair criticism was a sad reflection of our domestic politics in which the opposition would take to a total denunciation of whatever the Modi government did to deal with the world outside.

The fact is that on foreign and national security policies India has done exceptionally well under Modi's leadership and a proof of this is the success achieved by India in isolating Pakistan in the international community on the issue of the new faith-based global terror that was being fostered from its soil. For India the prime threat to national security emanates from cross border terrorism -- that was keeping Kashmir on the boil -- and it goes to the credit of our foreign policy and national security handlers that they succeeded in getting Trump -- who luckily for India has a visceral dislike of Islamic extremism himself -- to abandon the American policy of making a distinction between 'good terrorists' and 'bad terrorists' which had in the past, given a leeway to Pakistan at the cost of India.

As far as economic deals are concerned Prime Minister Modi's acumen for pushing the national gains ahead can match the will and skills of any other leader of the world -- this was openly acknowledged by Trump in his Ahmedabad speech. Prime Minister Modi indeed has the ability to get over the bureaucratic recalcitrance on either side by engaging his counterpart in a personal discussion and review -- this is something that did not go unnoticed in the context of the Trump visit.

At the Motera stadium, President Trump defined the basic approach that gave positivity to India-US relations -- he said that both Modi and he wanted to do what they believed was in the best interests of their people. This made for the continuity of talks on trade and commerce as also on strategic issues.

President Donald Trump's visit to India with his family has not only added to the visibility of US' friendly ties with this country but has also enhanced his standing at home in an election year because of the expectation of an increased support for him from Indians settled in the US. The visit hit the global headlines for its geo-political significance for this part of the world where competing interests of Russia and China also come into play and underscored India's position as one of the prime movers particularly in the Indo-Pacific context.

The visit reportedly, fast tracked the talks for the finalisation of the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) that would allow India and the US to exchange geospatial maps to get pinpointed military accuracy of automated hardware systems and weapons such as cruise and ballistic missiles. President Trump announced in Ahmedabad itself that a $3 billion deal signed for the supply of Sikorsky and Apache attack helicopters to India.

Talks in Delhi also focussed on terrorism and ways and means of the two countries jointly tackling the common threat. It is hoped that apart from Intelligence exchange, a track would be created for interaction between the special knowledge people on both sides for an ongoing study of the roots of Islamic radicalism and the pattern of its spread as well as formulation of 'de-radicalisation' programmes. India unlike US has no comfort of distance in facing the new global terror and is better placed for understanding the nuances of the problem and keeping both strategic partners on the same grid on this threat.

Speaking alongside Prime Minister Modi for a joint statement at Delhi, President Trump talked of the 'majesty' of India and the grand hospitality received by his family, expressed his optimism about a comprehensive trade deal with India and went at some length to enumerate the agreements that had been reached for expanding defence cooperation and improving partnership in energy sector, healthcare and homeland security. He gave out that he and Prime Minister Modi were working together for a free and balanced Indo-Pacific region.

He specifically mentioned the advance made by the two countries in jointly defending their people against radical Islamic terror and getting Pakistan to take full and effective action against the terrorists operating from its soil. There is little doubt that the maiden visit of President Trump would do a lot to benefit the two countries both in the economic sphere as well as the security domain. The two largest democracies of the world are likely to work together as 'natural partners' in a transparent way under the leadership of Trump and Modi whose personal equation with each other and the known commitment to their respective countries provide a strong foundation for the Indo-US friendship as it exists today.

(The writer is a former Director Intelligence Bureau. The views expressed are personal.)