US president to be in Gujarat too in US election year
Shankar Kumar | February 12, 2020 | New Delhi
Preparation is in full swing for US president Donald Trump’s India visit on February 24-25. This will be his maiden India visit as president. As per the ministry of external affairs press release: “During the visit, President Trump and the First Lady [Melania Trump] will attend official engagement in New Delhi and Ahmedabad, Gujarat, and interact with a wide cross-section of Indian society.”
Analysts see the US president’s planned visit to Gujarat with an electoral angle. According to the 2010 US census, Gujarati origin accounts for 15 lakh of the total 24 lakh American Indians in the country. Of this total, more than 3.5 lakh speak Gujarati as the first language. New York, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Los Angeles, Silicon Valley, Atlanta, Seattle, Tampa and Miami are some of prominent cities which are homes to Indian Americans. And by undertaking a visit to India and Gujarat in particular, president Trump wants to create an impression that he has a special rapport with India and Indians. This way he wants to shore up his political capital back home in the election year.
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There is also likelihood of the US signing a major trade deal with India during the presidential visit. US trade representative Robert Lighthizer is expected to arrive in India soon to give shape to proposed trade package between the two countries to be announced during president Trump’s visit. India has increased crude oil import bills from the US. In comparison to 2.6 million tonnes of crude oil imported from the US in the period between April and August 2018, India bought 4.5 million tonnes of crude oil from the US in the same period in 2019. This scenario is going to witness a jump in 2020 as given the tension in the Middle-East region, India has decided to purchase more crude oil from the US to meet its energy security needs. Also, there is hint that India could ease the US’s concern on tariffs imposed on American goods in the country.
Interestingly, a successful visit with a meaningful trade deal with India could help the US president notch up another policy victory after a trade pact with China. People familiar with the US politics say that improved trade relations with India and China would impact positively on the electoral outcome when Trump is in the race for his second term in the White House.
At the same time, it will also give prime minister Narendra Modi, who is facing barrage of criticism from the opposition, minorities and some members of the international community on a range of issues from Article 370 to the Citizenship Amendment Act, an opportunity to get American endorsement on his domestic policies.
Defence will be another major area where the two countries could see some activities during Trump’s visit. In the recent past, defence and strategic partnership between India and the US has witnessed a significant progress. In June 2019, the US Senate passed a bill making India on par with America’s NATO allies Japan, Australia and South Korea.
Currently the two countries are working on three critical technologies for joint production of defence equipment under the ‘Make in India’ programme. These defence technologies include small Unmanned Aerial System - a drone swarm, rifle and machine guns made from lightweight polymer cast material and third is development of command and control software for the purpose of intelligence, surveillance, targeting and reconnaissance (ISTAR). These projects are expected to receive further boost during the forthcoming presidential visit.
Also, strategic relations between the two countries have enhanced with both sides recognizing the need for close cooperation between them for maintaining peace in the Indian Ocean Region and Indo-Pacific. India is a key member of the Quad comprising US, Japan and Australia as three other members of the group, which saw a major development in its status when, for the first time, it held a foreign minister-level talks on the sidelines of the UN general assembly meet on September 27, 2019. Since maintaining peace in the Indo-Pacific region is the prime objective of the Quad, India is under huge pressure from the US and Japan to include Australia in the ambitious Malabar exercise, a trilateral naval exercise involving India, US and Japan. According to media reports, India is giving serious consideration to inviting Australia to participate in the forthcoming trilateral Malabar exercise with Japan and the US this year.
The first India-US tri-service exercise named ‘Tiger Triumph’ was held from November 13 to 21, 2019 at Visakhapatnam. The US Navy will be one of 41 participants at ‘Milan 2020’ naval exercise to be held in March at Visakhapatnam. A US defence official is expected to join soon India launched Information Fusion Centre (IFC) in Gurugram, an IT hub which is part of the national capital region. IFC envisages keeping a track on maritime terrorism, piracy, human and contraband trafficking, illegal and unregulated fishing, arms running and poaching activities in the Indian Ocean Region and alert security agencies in the wake of any such activities.
However, what is heartening to India is that the US is backing it to the hilt on the terrorism issue which was an agenda of talks during the just concluded two-plus-two ministerial dialogue in Washington DC. Besides condemning terrorism in all its forms, the two sides had called on Pakistan to take immediate, sustained and irreversible action to ensure that no territory under its control is used for terrorism against other countries in any manner. Sources say during the dialogue, Indian side had requested the US to extend its help in blacklisting Pakistan under the Financial Action Task Force.
At present in the grey list, Pakistan requires 12 votes out of the total 39 to be in the white list during the FATF plenary meeting which is scheduled to be held in Paris on February 16, 2020. In view of this upcoming meeting of far-reaching consequences in the South Asian region, India is keenly watching the US move, as in order to have safe withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, the Trump administration requires Pakistan’s help.
Neither does India want easing of FATF’s noose around Pakistan, nor does it want the US to make way for the Taliban inside Afghanistan’s ruling corridor unless the insurgent group accepts conditions regarding constitution, democracy and international order. During the US presidential visit, these issues will once again form the agenda of the talks. Some veteran diplomats say that Trump, desperately requiring 24 lakh Indians’ support to remain in contention for his re-election in the November 2020 presidential election, will do nothing that will turn his electoral apple cart upside down. But then Trump is Trump. His unpredictability has been a source of concern for many, including White House staff.
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