IN A TROUBLED WORLD

India's Foreign Secretary S.Jjaishankar visited Washington last week. He met with all the important players in town who could be helpful in advancing the India -US relationship. He met with the speaker of the House Paul Ryan, leader of the Democratic Party and former speaker Nancy Pelosi. He also talked to India Caucus members Ed Royce, Joseph Crowley and Steny Hoyer and others. The Secretary also met with the Trump administration officials: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Commerce Secretary Wilber Ross and Homeland Secretary General John F. Kelly. Jaishankar and his team tried to impress upon them the importance of the relationship between the two countries.

The Trump administration is still trying to get off the ground. All of its components are not yet in place. It is facing charges of election related wrong doing and calls are pouring in for a special prosecutor to look into the matter. All of this is not good for a young administration. However, Indian officials consider these to be the internal affairs of the United States and they seem not to dwell on them. When asked "Given the situation the administration is in, how seriously can you take its commitment?" He answered in a question" Didn't they have an election?" One can read from it that regardless the troubles the administration faces at home, the Government of India will continue to do business with it as if nothing has happened.

Under Donald Trump's administration the US is embarking on "America First" philosophy. It wants companies to manufacture their products at home instead of taking them overseas. The administration is restricting immigration and cutting off H1 B visas meant for highly skilled individuals. Such a policy has affected Indians directly. In spite of having permission to come, many cannot come. There is fear. The anti-immigrant mindset that Trump has unleashed in the land has created a xenophobic atmosphere where his followers have become hatemongers and seem to have the upper hand. His "America First" philosophy stands directly against Prime Minister Modi's "Make in India" slogan. Modi wants India to become a hub of manufacturing and commerce. He wants to see each state in the Union to hum like Gujarat. In each country the focus is on creating new employment. Now, the question arises: Do "Make in India" and "America First "collide or coalesce with each other?

Secretary Jaishankar seemed to be upbeat about it. He thought a prosperous America is good for a prosperous India and vice versa. Each country is trying to get ahead in its own way. However, there is a "lot of good will and strong support" for India. While the Secretary was meeting with American law makers and top bureaucrats of the administration, one of Trump's cabinet members was fighting for his political life and honor. Because many of the key positions have not yet been filled, there has been no substantial policy formation in Washington. On top of that there is this serious allegation which has kept the administration paralyzed in many ways. The situation should not be lost on the policy makers in India.

Both the United States and India are vested in South Asia and Afghanistan. As democracies they are also vested in each other. In order to create peace in a troubled world they have to work together. To that end, Jaishankar felt a "positive sense of India as a partner" among elected officials and cabinet members. "They have a lot of confidence in India as a good, solid partner" - he said. Not long ago Jaishankar was India's ambassador to the United States. At that time Donald Trump was a high-profile businessman, a real estate developer. His conversion into becoming a politician seems to be a work in progress. Given all the problems swirling around this administration, every comment or commitment it makes has to be taken with a grain of salt. Foreign Secretary Jaishankar's positive spin about his visit to Washington should not blur the reality on the ground. So, a cautious approach is required.


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