Beyond Trump’s visit to India
Asoke K. Laha, President and MD, Interra Information Technologies.
While I am writing this piece, hectic activities are in progress in India to receive US President Donald Trump. I do not think any other US president might have got more headlines in India than PresidentTrump. I believe President Trump loves headlines in whatever manner that comes, good or bad, favorable or unfavorable, in the US or elsewhere. Unlike many of his predecessors, his unique personality attracts lots of media attention. The other day, he made an interesting comment that he has the maximum number of followers in the Facebook, followed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and he thanked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for revealing that statistics. He tops the list in twitter world also, which he proudly proclaims.
A friend of mine revealed how much he loved President Trump. He listed out a few reasons for his liking. The first point that struck me was his opinion that the President has a young mind though he is in his seventies. On probing his response, he posed a counter to me: which of the presidents in the history of the US has used twitter and Facebook to the hilt? His immediate predecessor Barak Obama is much younger to him in age. Even then, he never used the social media that profusely to connect with the people. That way he is very open and his statements are not couched up in the diplomatic pleasantries, niceties and innuendoes.
The second reason pointed out was that President Trump is not a conventional head of the state to mean that he does not do things in accordance with the rule book. Sometimes, his reactions and responses are terse, aggressive and attacking. He can be street smart to get across his views and use verbose and invectives that are typical American once you are upfront with harsh situations. That way he does not wear a façade to cover his emotions, likes and dislikes. Such people are predictable and are clear about what they need. They do not beat around the bush. A typical example, he pointed out was, when President asserted that he was the most eligible person to get the coveted Nobel Prize for Peace, which was bestowed on Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. The President was airing his views in a free and frank manner, like an ordinary citizen bereft of any hang-ups.
The other reason that he gave was that, President Trump blended in himself the role of a politician and businessmen so judiciously that nobody can really make out whether he is either. The US had earlier also multi billionaires as Presidents. But never ever they could beat China or any other power the way Trump had done.
Let me come back to his maiden visit to India, which is currently grabbing the headlines. The President and First Lady will visit Delhi and Ahmadabad and would find time to have a quick stop at Agra to give a cultural backdrop to his visit. He will pose for a photo session against the breathtaking ambience of Taj Mahal, which I am sure, would get flashed across the world. President Trump sincerely believes that India and China are not in the same league of poor countries as bracketed by UN organizations like WTO, UNCTAD etc. His poser is that if India and China are developing countries, the US also fit to be in the same league. What more India can ask for….India becoming a developed country much ahead of the timeframe that we have set up sometime after 2040?
Should President Trump use the same yardstick while negotiating with India when he visits India next week? Even if the diplomat in Trump may be willing to give a few concessions to India, such as restoring the lapsed GSP or making some emotional overtures towards India highlighting how the Indians are scripting changes in the expanding IT world of the US or how the bright young boys and girls of Indian origin in his administration contributing to fine tuning the administration, the businessman in Trump would chase his business dreams in the Indian landscape. Already, the Trump administration had bagged defense and aviation orders worth a few billion dollars. He would negotiate for more. This could be in sectors including opening up of India’s hardware sector, particularly the mobile phones by reducing the recently hiked import duty, more space for American companies in the dairy, fruit, meat, nuts (almond), beverages (wine) blueberries and the list is expanding. The reason is very simple. The unexpected has happened. The US thinks that the Chinese reciprocity in terms of the US thawing its stand on trade war would not get fructified at least for some more months on account of the epidemics crated by novel coronovirus, which is eating into the vitals of the Chinese psyche.
The other interesting area that Trump administration would harp on is the delicate issue of data localization. Some of the US biggies like Amazon, Facebook, WhatsApp, Walmart, Google, Apple etc. are affected parties. Some of the banks like Citibank, Standard Chartered etc. also had joined the bandwagon since they believe that if the data is stored in India there would be breach of privacy since certain categories of data have to be shared with Indian government, if they ask for it, which the US companies feel will be detrimental to the personal privacy. Will Trump take up that issue during his short stay in India with Prime Minister Narendra Modi is something which one has to wait and watch.
Before I get into what stand India should take up while negotiating with the US, let me flag a few procedural points that India might learn from the US. The foremost is the visible hawkish attitude of the head of the state to leverage its strength to demand benefits for its businesses. The US President lobbies openly for its corporations, be they for internet companies, e-commerce entities, aviation and aerospace related companies or pharmaceutical or medical device companies, defense equipment manufacturers and the list is expansive. Though of late India also started aggressively following this type of pressure, we are far behind the US, France, Britain, Germany etc. The biggest ambassador of their private sector is government itself. It is my considered view that type of trust and bonhomie are lacking in the Indian scenario, where mostly the attitude is let the private sector fend for itself.
Could India checkmate the US designs to conquer the expanding Indian market? It could, provided the Indian negotiating team convince the hawkish US negotiators that as much India needs the US, the US also needs India, if not more. Being a business man President Trump would know that business language since in the recent times, India’s import of everything including defense equipment, fighter planes, passenger aircrafts, IT equipment, medical devices, oil and gas and a host of other items have gone up phenomenally. Also, unlike China, India does not run a huge trade deficit with the US. He also understands that the contributions of Indians to the America Inc are huge both in quality and quantity. He also knows that people of Indian origin create employment and income to thousands of people in the US, apart from contributing smartly to its export and exchequer. He also knows that Indians are the major ethnic community in the US and every Indian –origin American makes it a point to cast his or her vote in the US elections. Of course, the politician in President Trump cannot miss the last point.