Going beyond Personal Chemistry

Narendra Modi and Donald Trump
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It’s national interests that keep Indo-US ties on the right track

THERE HAS BEEN plenty of speculation about the first meeting between Narendra Modi and Donald Trump. Scheduled for June 26th, the meeting has not generated the kind of enthusiasm that usually marks meetings between Indian and US leaders.

Beyond the pessimistic commentary lies another reality. One reason for the underlying strength in relations between the two countries is the careful consolidation that takes place after each incremental step. This is true for every aspect of the relationship—military, political and economic. This has been cemented by a nurturing of the relationship across the political spectrum in both countries. The result is that ties are virtually immune from any political squall that may hit the US or India.

Then what explains the pessimism? For one, the Trump presidency is one of the most unusual kinds seen in recent US history. Stridently nationalistic in contrast to the ‘globalist’ varieties seen since 1990, it has rattled the local elite in America. Modi, too, is a very different leader from the sort usually seen in India. For another, the world is witnessing a deep resentment with globalisation. Together, these factors jeopardise many current economic and political projects. From jobs that emerged in the last 25 years as a result of greater labour mobility to the fate of international agreements ranging from trade to climate change mitigation, plenty is up in the air.

Had the bilateral relation been limited to one or two areas, these developments would have badly buffeted it. But Indo-US ties span a lot of territory with plenty of space for national interests to prevail. That is how relations were re-organised after the end of the Cold War. India’s need for American military hardware—something it needs not only from a military technology perspective but also to diversify supplies—is a case in point. Similarly, with China on the rise, Trump would not like to rock the Indian boat beyond a point, if only as insurance in case his gambit with Xi Jinping fails. The way events are shaping up in the Korean Peninsula, this is an important consideration.

The problem with the ‘headlines interpretation’ of international relations is that it is too personality-centric. Stable countries ensure that ties are tempered against such eventualities. India and the US are among them.