Ram Madhav
February 24, 2020

The coming together of Modi-Trump

The world’s largest and richest democracies stand up against terror, authoritarianism, anarchy

Atal Bihari Vajpayee described the United States (US) and India as natural allies. We share the same ethos and values that our two nations have consistently nurtured through democratic institutions. We value our democratic tradition, and work towards encouraging more and more countries in that direction. After India’s Independence, more than 60 countries have secured independence. A majority of them followed India’s path of peaceful resistance, and also emerged as democratic States.

The democratic world is shrinking today. At least two dozen countries have turned authoritarian in the last couple of decades. Terrorism, authoritarianism and violence have returned to the world stage. The rise of a multipolar world has led to a scenario where democratic and responsible powers such as the US and India have to come together to uphold the larger objectives of global peace, democratic liberalism and shared prosperity.

In the first five decades of India’s Independence, there was hardly any steam in this relationship. Just three American presidents — Dwight Eisenhower in 1959, Richard Nixon in 1969, and Jimmy Carter in 1978 — came to India in the first 50 years. The credit goes to Vajpayee for injecting life into the relationship. Bill Clinton and George W Bush came in 2000 and 2006 respectively, and Barack Obama visited twice in 2010 and 2015. Donald Trump will be the fifth US President to visit India in the last two decades.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken this relationship to a new high. Under Modi, India has shed its reticence and come forward in an unorthodox manner to register its ambition to grow as an influential and responsible global power. At a time when the global power axis is shifting to India’s neighbourhood, and democracies world over are wilting under the pressure of authoritarian and terrorist regimes, India’s rise as the world’s largest democracy, asserting its place and role, is a historic development.

India is the most stable and strong country in the world’s most happening region of the Indo-Pacific. Nothing is more urgent and important for global peace, stability and prosperity today than striving to manage the Indo-Pacific region. India’s role will be unassailable in that. Both India and the US realise this. Ties between the US and India have to fulfil this historic necessity.

President Trump’s visit must be seen from this perspective. Stand alone visits of US Presidents are rare. Trump chose to pay an exclusive visit to India for two days. It shows the important place that India enjoys in the US’ scheme of things. Under Modi, India has adopted the policy of de-hyphenation in its international relations. India’s enhanced relations with America need not be seen as the emergence of any new club. Instead, it is a reiteration of India’s commitment to democracy and global peace, as also a reassurance to the other democratic States in the world.

It is ironical that the neo-liberal establishment in the world no longer sees democracies as worthy of their support. The elitist democracies that the liberals have championed after the Second World War have now given way to popular democracies. State after State is electing leaders that defy the convoluted liberal worldview. The liberals are up in arms against these leaders. Modi in Delhi or Boris Johnson in London or Trump in Washington DC are not particularly the kind of leaders that liberals would like democracies to throw up. These leaders are the products of real popular mandates, uninfluenced by the elitist liberal institutions such as the media, academia and think tank circuits. And they don’t hesitate to challenge the hegemony of the liberal elite.

The liberals are clearly rattled and angry. Nancy Pelosi’s ripping and shredding of President Trump’s speech copy publicly is a classic case of liberal outrage. For them, it is no longer “democracy in danger”; it is “democracy is the danger”. Their new argument is, “individual rights and popular will are at war with each other”. Leaders elected through popular mandate are being branded as “populist demagogues” and their countries as “illiberal democracies”. Popular will is described as a “post-truth” phenomenon; the Internet and social media are branded as the villains; and liberal scholars such as Yascha Mounk author books with titles such as The people vs democracy: Why our freedom is in danger & how to save it.

These new cheerleaders of authoritarianism and anti-people regimes, whose favourite feeding grounds are anarchist agitations like the one in Shaheen Bagh, are the ones criticising Trump’s visit.

Like any other bilateral visit, Trump’s visit too will have many important outcomes in areas such as defence, trade, energy and people-to-people relations. Trump is known for his transactional approach. Modi is known for his steadfastness in securing the nation’s interests. If an important trade deal is delayed, it goes to the credit of both the leaders for their commitment to the interests of their respective countries. Yet, the visit and talks go on because the relationship transcends trade, commerce and so on.

It signifies the marching together of the world’s largest democracy and the world’s richest and most powerful democracy as a bulwark against authoritarianism, terrorism and liberal-sponsored anarchy in the world. That is the larger message that the coming together of Trump-Modi duo the sixth time in last one year conveys to the world.

(The article was originally published in Hindustan Times on February 24, 2020, Views expressed are personal.)

Published by Ram Madhav

Member, Board of Governors, India Foundation

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