The first meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and American President Donald Trump turned out to be very fruitful, belying skepticism over any positive outcome. Modi succeeded in hard-selling India story to both American industry and polity.
Contrary to fears of Trump giving a torrid time to Modi, Trump not only laid a red carpet welcome but even made him the first foreign dignitary to have a working dinner with him at White House.
Seizing the opportunity, Modi certainly put his finest skills to best use and made Trump realise that making 'America First' hinges upon protecting the interests of India and its people.
He seemed to have succeeded as a fastidious Trump called India a "true friend" and declared the relationship has never been stronger and better.
Both leaders deftly steered clear of irritants like H1B visa issue, US exit from climate pact, huge US trade deficit with India, barriers to American business in India etc. India was surprised by Trump’s surprising gesture in regard to tackling the common threat i.e., terrorism.
The US has designated as a global terrorist Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin. Both leaders also urged Islamabad to expeditiously bring to justice the perpetrators of terror attacks in India. Indeed, it is a big setback to Pakistan. US action has vindicated India’s longstanding position that cross-border terrorism is behind the crisis created in Kashmir, thus warming the cockles of Indians’ hearts.
But India had better be cautioned that the US may not act beyond this against its still trusted ally. It needs Pakistan for support to its troops in Afghanistan and to pave way for peace in that country. Likewise, Trump may not go after China either.
Of late, developments in North Korea and American business interests in China seemed to have softened Trump's tough-on-China remarks. It is not only important not to take any sides, but also equally important to be seen doing so. India is joining US and Japan in the biggest naval exercise in the Indian Ocean next month. But, it should not venture into Indo-Pacific region, which is certain to rankle China.
It will be naive to expect great results right away flowing from the meeting. PM may be berated for not putting across India’s concerns over H1B visa. But the first meeting and the first impressions are very vital. Prickly issues can be followed up on later.
Both leaders developed a good rapport before the Group of 20 meeting in Germany next month. Though, one may not expect Indo-US ties under Trump to brim with bonhomie as seen during the days of Obama presidentship, nevertheless, Trump sounded amenable to a 'promising' relationship. Like a true friend, he tried to humour India even at the cost of annoying a trusted ally in Pakistan.
Thus, devoid of any jarring notes, Modi-Trump meeting raised hopes that both the greatest democracies can jointly act as engines of growth for mutual benefit and prosperity. Modi has literally turned Trump around to this great idea. But, it needs time and energies of both the leaders to ensure that the relationship stays the course.