Right from the beginning of his prime ministership in 2014, Modi has made concerted efforts to reach out to the Indian community abroad. Those efforts paid rich dividends this Sunday when Modi’s address to the Indian-American community in Houston turned out to be a mega event with President Donald Trump and two dozen American lawmakers – cutting across party lines and therefore exemplifying bipartisan support for India – attending. It also comes at a time when Pakistan has been trying hard to drum up international support to counter India’s move to abrogate special status for Jammu & Kashmir.
A fundamental plank in Pakistan’s irredentist claims on Kashmir is eliciting Western diplomatic support, chiefly in the US and UK, since it knows it cannot achieve this by military or asymmetric means alone. But the Modi-Trump bonhomie in Houston showed that Washington is firmly in India’s corner, even if some signals eventually emanate about easing restrictions in Kashmir (which New Delhi should, in any case). This was reinforced when Trump asserted the need to protect civilians from radical Islamist terrorism and Modi called out Pakistan by alluding to the fact that the planners of both the 9/11 and 26/11 terror attacks were hosted in that country.
However, to take full advantage of strategic complementarities between India and the US things must improve on the trade front – it was not that long back when Trump had labelled India “tariff king”. The Trump administration’s obsession with trade deficits is a big roadblock in India-US ties. Therefore, it is hoped that the momentum from the ‘Howdy Modi’ event will translate into a meaningful trade deal. Reportedly, a mini-agreement is in the works that will see India lower tariffs on some American goods, in return for US concessions such as restoring India’s special trade status under the Generalized System of Preferences.
Overall, the two countries must come together to balance the rise of a techno-totalitarian state such as China, since neither has the resources to do so alone. China has more than four times the population of the US and is close to overtaking it in GDP as well as tech prowess, while it has nearly five times the size of the Indian economy. It also happens to be driven by a sense of manifest destiny and a zero sum view of international relations. Upholding a global liberal and rules-based order, therefore, necessarily requires strong strategic cooperation between the world’s richest and largest democracy.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.