When US President Donald Trump returned after his 36-hour visit to India, what has he left behind for India and himself? The hosts and the guest having set fixtures sufficiently in advance, there was not much to expect as surprise. Everything went off as scheduled and choreographed: the reception rally in Ahmedabad and related ceremonies, bilateral negotiations and the agreements. Barring some serious faux pas by Trump in mentioning the size of the crowd at Ahmedabad's Motera Stadium as reciprocation for the Houston Howdy Modi show, as a million and the same turning out to be just a lac, and the mispronunciation of certain Indian names, everything went off fine.
When the Trump visit - amply hyped months in advance - materialised as planned, it was overshadowed by the smoke and dust of the riots in Delhi, Trump ignored them all and returned after making his tour a major success. In the meantime, Trump had given prime minister Modi, his party and the background force of the sangh parivar everything to rejoice through social media mixing nostalgia and reminscences of a trip. On the other hand, though Trump had arrived with a criticism of India as 'tariff king' blaming India's import-export policy and declaring that he would not budge an inch from the conditions set trade links with India, he swallowed all such grudge-ridden rhetoric for the time being.
Trump pulled all stops in lavishing his praises on Modi as a 'great friend' thereby stressing that official rigidities would not come in the way of such relations. He described Modi as 'an exceptional leader, a great champion of India, a man who works night and day for his country'. Thus when 'Howdy Modi' was paid back in ample measure, both leaders had reasons for rapture. It was in the backdrop of repeal of constitutional provision for special rights of Kashmir, and the country-wide anger and protests faced by the government about the new citizenship law Modi and his regime won this clean chit from the leader of the world's biggest power.
Even as Trump offered to mediate in the matter of Kashmir, a role India would concede to any third country, he offered comfort by saying that India could handle the issue by itself. He said the citizenship law was an internal matter of India, and also expressed satisfaction at what Modi said to him about the religious freedom of Muslims and Christians, i.e. that minorities were enjoying enough of that. And he stopped short of uttering a word about the racist attacks happening in Delhi at the time. On the whole, the BJP heaves a sigh of relief and enthusiasm that Trump has obliterated Modi's image created by 'liberal media syndicate at the global level'. On the other hand, Trump who is facing an election for a second term in office, got some boost for his poll campaign by winning an unprecedented level of popular reception in a foreign land. The message Trump seeks to convey to Americans back home through his visit is that Modi and India were within his grip which could be used in favour of US interests in trade relations.
Both countries signed an arms import deal worth USD 3 billion in line with the defence and anti-terrorism accord signed in 2019. What India conveyed in the process was a willingness to shift its pro-Russian tilt to one in favour of America in the matter of arms trade and defence co-operation. There have been other agreements too on Indian military support to the peace efforts in the Indo-Pacific region, assurance to transfer US military technology, plan to deliver liquefied natural gas (LNG) to areas not linked by pipeline now, aid to build six nuclear reactors, joint operation to prevent flow of narcotics etc.
Despite all this, Trump did not say anything about withdrawing the conditions imposed as pressure tactics to extract maximum concessions from India in the matter of trade. Instead, both trade ministers were requested to continue with the negotiations. But America is unlikely to concede until full liberalisaton is achieved in the matter of imports. As for India, it cannot ignore the warning from the domestic agriculture and manufacturing sectors that such a liberalisation will improverish the country. In short, the path for breaking the deadlock in trade co-operation has not been cleared yet. Thus, the visit has culminated for both leaders as only a means of overcoming challenges in the domestic front. For Trump, this visit may be an investment for his electoral prospects. But the concern being raised is whether on the Indian side, it will turn out to be a validation of the Modi regime's autocratic rule.