Trump’s visit to India was aimed at the diaspora vote | Opinion – analysis
According to all reports, President Donald Trump’s visit to India was a great success, if judged as a pure spectacle. The highlight of the trip was a public event at the Motera stadium, where a large number of Indians worshiped the president of the United States. Perhaps it was the largest crowd ever drawn by Trump in his short public life. Size of the crowd apart, how consistent was Trump’s visit? Will it have any long-term impact on relations between the United States and India?
In the weeks leading up to the visit, everything focused on whether the two countries would sign a successful commercial agreement. They do not. In addition to a $ 3 billion defense agreement, an agreement between Indian Oil and Exon Mobil to import liquefied natural gas and another agreement to collaborate on 5G technology, the two sides did not make much progress on the commercial front. Given that bilateral trade exceeded $ 150 billion last year, the size of the agreements announced during the visit, although substantial, were not blockbusters.
It is too early to judge the historical importance of Trump’s trip. It will take months and years to know its real impact. However, it can be said with certainty that it is much less important for bilateral relations than the visits of some of the president’s predecessors, especially the visit of President Bill Clinton in 2000. That visit, which took place less than two years after that the United States imposed sanctions on India for conducting nuclear tests in 1998, was a decisive moment in relations between India and the United States.
ALSO LOOKS | Donald and Melania Trump visit Taj Mahal, pose for the cameras holding hands
Other historically notable visits include Dwight Eisenhower’s trip, the first time a US president set foot in India, and President George W. Bush’s 2005 visit. It was Bush’s visit that paved the way for the India-United States Civil Nuclear Agreement, which ended India’s global nuclear isolation.
Significantly, Trump’s visit differed from previous presidential visits in one respect. The trip was essentially a campaign stop as well. If the audience of tens of thousands of white hats in Motera reminded one of a MAGA rally, it was no coincidence. That is because the short-term impact that Trump seeks is to influence more Indian-American voters by his side. With a second term in November, the president seeks to expand his voters in the Indian-American community, one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in the United States.
In 2016, Trump became the first presidential candidate of an important party to publicly woo American Indians, when he attended a demonstration organized by the Republican Hindu Coalition in New Jersey. He continued courting that community in his joint appearance with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Howdy Modi event in Houston last September, in which the two leaders addressed more than 50,000 American Indians.
The majority of Indian-American voters live in large states such as California, New York, New Jersey, Illinois and Texas, all states that are not at stake in presidential elections due to current voting patterns. However, the community also has a significant presence in Florida, Pennsylvania and Michigan, the battlefield states that will probably decide the presidency in case of closed elections.
In 2016, according to opinion polls, Trump received only one-sixth of the Indian-American votes, despite making a great effort to arrive. One of the reasons he couldn’t make much progress last time was because of his opponent’s popularity.
Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton had a longer history with the American Indians and India, as she visited the country several times, as the first lady of the United States and as secretary of state. In fact, during the 2008 Democratic primary disputed between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, a member of the Obama campaign in a memo mockingly referred to Clinton as Senator of Punjab, due to his close relationship with the Indian-American community.
This time, Trump is likely to improve his performance among Americans of Indian origin for several reasons, including the following: None of the Democrats running for president this year has the kind of relationship with India that Clinton had. The president continued to communicate with the Indian-American community while in office. The joint appearance with Modi strengthens its ties with India.
Trump acknowledges that Modi is still very popular among American Indians, especially within the influential American community of Gujarati, which has more than 800,000. According to the 2010 census, the Indian-American population in Florida was more than 128,000; in Pennsylvania, it was 103,000; and in Michigan it was more than 77,000. Trump won Florida by about 113,000. His margin in Pennsylvania was just over 44,000. Similarly, in Michigan. won by less than 10,800 votes.
It is very likely that Trump’s visit to India has moved the needle and consolidated his position with the American Indian voters there. And, they could help you secure the margin you need to carry those states.
It is worth noting that, while in India, for once, Trump abandoned his mercurial personality and acted as a kind guest in deference to Modi. Known for expressing his opinion freely, requested and unsolicited, in a rather unusual way he chose not to comment on the controversial citizenship law. He also supported Modi’s history of religious freedom, which remains under scrutiny in the United States.
In the end, the absence of a commercial agreement did not prevent the president from describing the visit as “unforgettable” and “extraordinary.” Probably, the electoral calculations in the changing states in which Indian-American voters could make a significant difference were in the president’s mind as much as the adulation he received in Gujarat.
So, if Trump is re-elected in November with narrow margins in states like Pennsylvania and Michigan, he will be grateful to Modi for helping him get those few decisive and extra votes in the changing states. That could be Namaste Trump’s most important result for him and the ongoing relations between the two largest democracies in the world.
Frank F Islam is an entrepreneur, civic leader and thought leader based in Washington DC.
The opinions expressed are personal.