Why ‘Namaste Trump’ is much more than plain optics

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ANINDYA BANERJEE
New Delhi, Feb 24 (IANS)
Calling India and US ‘natural partners’, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made the case of the two playing ‘important roles’ in the way 21st century goes.
In what can be seen as a statement made with strategic intent, in front of hundreds and thousands of people in the world’s largest cricket stadium, Modi claimed, “In the 21st century, new alignments, new competition, new challenges and new opportunities are laying the foundation for change. The relationship and cooperation of India and America will have an important role in setting the direction of the 21st century world. I am clear that India and America are Natural Partners.”
Modi asserted that the two nations can make an effective contribution not only in the Indo-Pacific Region, but in the peace, progress and security of the whole world.
“Therefore, I believe that President Trump coming to India at the beginning of this decade is a very big opportunity,” PM Modi said.
Flexing the population muscle India has, Modi said, “Today, 130 crore Indians are jointly building New India. Our youthful strength is full of aspirations. Setting big goals, achieving them is becoming the hallmark of New India today.”
This assertion came closely on the heels of endorsement from Trump who not only heaped praise on his ‘friend’ Modi for winning the “largest democratically held elections”, but stating India has a right to defend itself. It’s no secret that India is one of the largest strategic partners of the US, regardless of the glitches between the two in terms of sealing a trade deal. And both Trump and Modi means business. As Trump announced of a helicopter sell to India and possibly partnering with India after its Chandrayan, India’s lunar satellite launch, Modi nodded in agreement.
“Today, the country that is India’s largest trading partner is America. Today, the country with which Indian armies are practicing the most is America. Today, the country with which India has the most extensive research and development partnership is America,” said Modi.
Before Trump spoke at length on the Indo-US relations, Modi harped on “Shared Values & Ideals, Shared Spirit of Enterprise & Innovation, Shared Opportunities & Challenges, Shared Hopes & Aspirations”.
Connecting the United States and India through two statues – Statue of Liberty and Statue of Unity, PM Modi smartly positioned India as a nation that has much in common with the United States.
“The name of the event – Namaste Trump, has a very deep meaning! It is one of the oldest languages in the world, a Sanskrit word. Its sense is that not only the person, but also the Divinity is within him,” remarked Modi.
Striking a personal bond between the Trump family and India, Modi stressed upon the work First Lady is doing and the last visit of Ivanka to India, a couple of years ago.
“First Lady Melania Trump, it is an honour to have you here. What you have done for Healthy and Happy America is getting good results. What you are doing for the children in the society is admirable,” said PM Modi as she smiled.
Modi added, “You say – Be Best! You must have felt that the same sentiment of people is being expressed in today’s reception.”
It was a win-win formula for both Modi and Trump. While it’s true that the two countries are at odds over a complicated trade agreement, Trump has an election to win back him where Indian community is crucial.
As of 2016, in the U.S, close to 18 lakh Indian origin people were of voting age. In the last election, Hillary Clinton won 11 out of the 14 counties in which Indian-origin voters exceeded 5 per cent of the population.
But getting a passive endorsement from India’s PM as “his friend, India’s friend” serves Trump’s electoral purpose. Moreover, he gets to seal deals through which American companies generate implements.
For Modi, India gets a lucrative defence deal and an endorsement for its right to protect itself, a reference India uses for Pakistan. Also the profuse praise for India’s democracy and shared values shuts up many international players who have been creating murmurs against India ever since India abrogated Article 370 and split Jammu and Kashmir.
As Trump mentions “Ganges to Jama Masjid”, it subtly contradicts its own government’s recent assertions of alleged religious freedom that it claimed has claimed down few notches owing to India’s Citizenship Amendment Act. No wonder, Namaste Trump is much more than optics. Its very significant for two world leaders – Trump and Modi.