New Delhi: How will Donald Trump turn out for India?

This writer is not shocked by Trump’s victory in the manner that most of the rest of the world is. He almost expected it just as he did Britain’s vote to exit the European Union. Taken together with Narendra Modi’s election as Prime Minister in the summer of 2014, you might say the democratic world has risen in anger and dissent against the corrupt and decadent Establishment. As two seemingly anti-Establishment figures, Modi and Trump can get along. Modi was elected on the basis of the biggest mass vote in history. Western leaders, including the incumbent US President, Barack Obama, have come to respect Modi on that account. Trump can possibly be no different.

Realism, however, suggests that Trump will prioritize and privilege domestic politics over international relations at least initially. He knows that he won because a majority of American voters, perhaps white and working class, but that does not really matter, believe that he can transform America. America is a declining power. Most of the American Establishment has accepted that as a cyclical fact and restricted its efforts to managing the decline. Trump refuses to accept a minimized and not-so-great America. His refusal gives hope to a vast majority of American voters and they voted for him for that reason; it is in the same manner that the Indian electorate voted for Modi to fix India. So Donald Trump would look to his first job as fixing America.

Being a successful businessman, he will seek to fix the US economy first, and he will consider major US defence spending cuts if that helps to stabilize the American economy. Donald Trump has no appetite for policing the world especially as much of the military burden of policing falls on the United States. To his way of thinking, the US has embarked on a pointless strategic competition with Russia when their strategic interests coincide in eliminating the Islamist threat to the world. Trump also feels affinity for Britain after it voted for Brexit while he can only be impatient and irritated with Europe and the wasteful Brussels bureaucracy. Out of all the countries of continental Europe, he would likely be drawn to powerhouse Germany. He would also be suspicious of China and entertain no illusions about its expansionism.

In sum, Donald Trump will come to office with two impulses which are not necessarily contrary although they may appear so. On one hand, he will draw the United States into a degree of isolation to rebuild it. It has happened before in US history although not in the exact same circumstances and the world has learnt to live with it. Trump’s second impulse would be to participate in such international engagements as benefits US power and adds to its bruised prestige. He will be looking for international partners that share in the contribution and the glory. This worldview and strategic path present opportunities for India.

In today’s multi-polar world, India is very much on its own. It accepts the challenge of a peaceful rise on the strength of its own genius and perseverance. India and the United States have strategic congruence in containing disrupters to a peaceful world order, whether they are located in South Asia or in the Middle East, or they rule China by force. Trump’s America would want an expanded Indian military footprint in enforcement of peace, and India would have to evaluate what is possible and what might lead to overstretch.

The key to understanding Donald Trump is that he is serious about fixing and transforming America. Everything outside that for him for the moment is a holding operation. India would have to be proactive with the new administration when it takes office early next year. India would have to make a case of being a sturdy and reliable strategic partner with congruity of interests. Prime Minister Modi would have ideas already buzzing in his head. In the way that he captured the imagination of the Obama White House, a second season of challenges awaits him with the new administration. The possibilities are enormous if one understands that America is also deeply crisis-ridden to so desperately elect a rank outsider to the governing Establishment.

Give-and-take in Indo-US relations has never become as suddenly important as in the present.

Editor’s Note: 1. Amrita Ahluwalia, a former Senior Analyst of Deloitte, London, and a Chartered Accountant, writes of Prime Minister Modi’s decision to ban Rs 500 and Rs 1000 currency notes which has stunned the nation: “The decision was not sudden. It started with bank accounts for all. Then bank accounts were linked to Aadhaar. Then, disclosures of bank accounts, passport details and Aadhaar were incorporated in income tax returns. Add to this the myriad data mining and collection tools in the hands of the income tax department. And finally this masterstroke: Truly a systemic change in the last two years. I am proud of my Prime Minister.”

2. The US mainstream media should be congratulated for getting the US election hopelessly wrong. Having become a part of the corrupt Establishment, it lost its connect to the people. It is the same story in the rest of the democratic world. The UK media did not see Brexit coming. And for all the hate and diatribe unleashed against Narendra Modi by the Indian mainstream media at the behest of the Lutyens’ Delhi establishment, he won. At this rate, the mainstream media will have no credibility left.