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Last Updated Monday June 26 2017 09:15 AM IST

Of Modi, Trump and India-US ties

Sachidananda Murthy
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Of Modi, Trump and India-US ties US President-elect Donald Trump (file photo)

From July this year, the Indian Ambassador to United States had been maintaining two files - one about Hillary Clinton winning the presidential elections and the second on Donald Trump scoring an upset victory.

Till mid-October, the Clinton file was much thicker as she was the front-runner in all polls. The folder contained assessments sent to New Delhi on the policies to be adopted by America's first woman president. Hillary and her projected team were well known to the Indian diplomats, especially to foreign secretary S. Jaishankar, who had been Indian ambassador in Washington before coming to the top job in Delhi. A continuation of the policies and legacy of Barack Obama, who had become close to India during his second term, was expected then.

But as the opinion polls indicated that the race was getting tighter, the Trump file started getting thicker. Detailed analyses of Trump's policies based on his public pronouncements and profiles of his potential ministers and advisers were prepared quickly for the eyes of Narendra Modi and external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj.

Just a few days before the Americans voted, the foreign affairs team decided that a senior diplomat should reach out to Trump team immediately after the elections, as the new ambassador Navtej Sarna was taking charge on November 5, virtually hours before the elections.

There were speculations that Arun Singh, who completed his tenure as ambassador in September, would get a six-month extension to handle the transition. But he was allowed to retire and Sarna, who was high commissioner in London, was appointed. Though Singh had handled several prime ministerial visits, he was not considered for an extension during the critical period as Modi wanted a fresh face to deal with the new administration. Although Sarna has extensive experience in Delhi, London and as ambassador to Israel, he had to start from the beginning. The long serving deputy chief of mission Taranjit Singh Sandhu has been named as India's next high commissioner to Sri Lanka.

When the early leads said Trump was leading, the prime minister was busy with the fallout of the demonetization move he had announced, which had caused shock and chaos in the country. But Trump's victory meant he had to call an urgent meeting of the foreign policy team to discuss the likely changes in areas of global trade, fight against terrorism, immigration of Indians to America and the climate change treaty, which India had signed on October 2.

The meeting attended Sushma Swaraj, principal secretary to prime minister Nripendra Mishra and national security adviser Ajit Doval decided that Jaishankar should be the first pointsman from India to meet with Trump's team. The Indian diplomat who had dealt with the administrations of George W. Bush and Obama during the last 16 years, was dealing with the third American president. Of course, Trump was busy, so Jaishankar met some of the officials in the transition team, who told the foreign secretary of Trump's appreciation for India and Modi.

But the Trump office was inundated with calls from world leaders, and the Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe personally came calling on Trump to New York, instead of sending a minister or diplomat. The move was similar to that of Modi, who has had several out of box ideas in foreign policy, starting with invitation to leaders of neighboring countries for his swearing in ceremony, and suddenly dropping in on Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Shariff 11 months ago.

But a meeting between Trump and Modi, when it takes place, will be of great significance for India as the country has both high hopes and deep fears regarding the policies of Trump when he assumes office on January 20 next year.  

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