New Delhi, July 13: The Narendra Modi government was planning to rerun the 2015 script by inviting US President Donald Trump as the chief guest for next year's Republic Day celebrations on January 26, a Times of India report said on Friday, July 13. While Washington was yet to come up with an official response, it was reported that it was favourably considering the invitation sent in April, the report added.
"If it happens, the Narendra Modi government might be tempted to tom-tom it as the biggest foreign policy coup in the past," the ToI report said.
According to observers, this initiative by the Indian government was to show that the recent friction with the US administration over issues like trade and immigration were more exceptions in an otherwise strong relationship between the two democracies and also that the Modi government is eager to utilise a big occasion like R-Day to strengthen its international contacts and alliances.
The theoretical basis of inviting Trump as the chief guest on R-Day is clean enough. But what about the practical part?
India invited Obama for R-Day in 2015 but it was a difference scenario then
India had welcomed Trump's immediate predecessor Barack Obama as the chief guest to the 2015 edition of R-Day. It was the first time ever that an incumbent of the White House attended the event for New Delhi's ties with Washington have not been historically favourable - politically and ideologically.
The invitation to Obama was thus seen as a major innovative diplomacy by Modi, who was not even a year-old in power then, and it was also a message to countries like China and Pakistan that India and the US considered each other close and were eager to work with each other in the international and specifically in the Asian circuits.
2018 is not 2015. While Modi is now in the last leg of his tenure and will be perceived as one doing everything now for the 2019 Lok Sabha election, Trump is no Obama who had a soft corner for India and made it evident through his repeated engagements with New Delhi - the government of the Congress or BJP notwithstanding.
Obama's 'Asia pivot' policy and a foreign policy aimed at countering China automatically made India an important player in its scheme of things. Then, Modi too was seen as a 'superman' who could teach foes like China and Pakistan a lesson. The presence of Obama in India gave the Modi government's plan to boost its international image a perfect conclusion (though one would not forget the embarrassing advice that Obama gave India at the end of his visit over valuing pluralism).
Why bother about Trump when he is not bothered about us?
Today, things are completely different. Trump, ever since his arrival at the White House last year, has proved that he is not one who will run after finding allies the world over. On the contrary, he is a leader who will mostly thinks about the US's own interests and if that even calls for booting out Washington's tested allies, he is ready.
Trump has showered praise on India only when the US required the latter for strategic gains versus Pakistan in Afghanistan or against China in the 'Indo Pacific' and those rhetoric have completely been selfish ones. In more substantial issues like trade and immigration or third-party ties (like India-Iran oil relationship or India-Russia military engagements), the US has only either targeted or restricted India in the recent times.
It even cancelled the proposed 2+2 talks more than once and its representative came to India to warn the latter over the oil imports from Iran - a key partner for India in Asia.
What the Modi government aims to achieve by inviting Trump when he has not given India much favour? Given Trump's mercurial nature and his administration's America-centric policy-making, it is futile to expect any significant changes in the US's policy towards India, or for that matter, any other country in the world till the time the gentleman occupies the White House. Symbolic gestures of inviting him to R-Day celebrations will serve little, as it had not with a more favourable Obama. Also, India is doing a more balancing act through its renewed engagements with China and Russia.
India has re-engaged with China, Russia of late
Modi held informal talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Wuhan in April and with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi in May. He spoke about the balance India is maintaining in its external affairs at his inaugural Shangri-La Dialogue speech in Singapore last month and also attended the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Qingdao, China, after India was admitted as a full member of the body that comprises Russia, China and Pakistan.
It also said it doesn't recognise unilateral sanctions imposed on Iran (though this turned out more to be a lip service later) after the US pulled out of the 2015 Iran deal and reimposed sanctions on it.
Why not call Iran's president for R-Day celebrations instead?
In these circumstances where India is feeling the necessity to reorient its foreign policy in an international system which is turning increasingly multi-polar, the decision to call Trump at the R-Day celebrations, knowing very well that the man cares little about diplomatic gestures, will produce nothing. It would have made sense had India invited Iran's president to the occasion to pacify Tehran's anger over India 'surrendering' to US's pressure to curb its oil imports.
This invitation to Trump also has a domestic significance for Modi and it is about showing his domestic constituencies that the criticism of his government's foreign policy is based on flimsy grounds. By calling an international heavyweight as the chief guest to the R-Day platform on an election year, Modi wants to prove his capacity in diplomatic manouvering but does only gesturing bring any real changes on the ground?