Trump keeps embarrassing Modi despite public bromance

US President Donald Trump keeps putting PM Modi in tight spots, notwithstanding bromance they often put on display   

US President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi shake hands during a meeting at Hyderabad House in New Delhi, India, February 25, 2020. (Reuters Photo)

His claim that he had discussed with Prime Minister Narendra Modi the tension along the disputed boundary between India and China in eastern Ladakh was not the only one from the United States President Donald Trump that New Delhi had to dismiss.

It was just the latest in a series of typical “Trump Talks” that put New Delhi in a tight spot and embarrassed the prime minister, notwithstanding the “bromance” the two leaders of late displayed in public – be it at the “Howdy! Modi” conclave in Houston on September 22 or at its sequel, the “Namaste Trump” conclave, in Ahmedabad on February 24.

Also read — PM Modi not in 'good mood' over border row with China: Donald Trump

New Delhi on Friday quickly contradicted Trump’s claim about his talks with Modi, because what the American President said could have fuelled speculation about India discussing with the US its boundary dispute with China and seeking its help to de-escalate the situation. His claim came a day after he offered to mediate between India and China – an offer, which got a cold shoulder from New Delhi. The claim and the offer together, however, could have built a narrative that India had sought the US support to manage its dispute with China – a narrative that would have gone against the long-standing policy of the successive governments in New Delhi to avoid soliciting, at least publicly, intervention by third countries in settling disputes with neighbours.  

Also read — US President Trump never spoke to PM Modi over India-China tensions, claims New Delhi

The US President’s offer, however, indicated that he was now aware of the fact that India shared a border with China. Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig, both journalists of the Washington Post, had claimed in a book – “A Very Stable Genius: Donald J.Trump’s Testing of America” – published earlier this year that the US President had not been aware of the fact that India and China had shared a border. They had quoted Trump telling Modi in a meeting: “It’s not as though you have China right on your border.”

Trump had in July 2019 claimed that Modi had requested him to mediate between India and Pakistan to help them settle the dispute of Kashmir. He had said that the Prime Minister had requested him to play the role of a mediator when they had a meeting on the sideline of the G20 summit at Osaka in Japan the previous month. He had made the claim while talking to journalists just before a meeting with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan at the White House in Washington D.C.

New Delhi had immediately refuted the claim, with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar telling Parliament that the Prime Minister had made no such request during his meeting with the US President in Osaka.

Trump, however, had continued to offer his service as a mediator between India and Pakistan.

New Delhi too had been underlining that the 1972 Simla Agreement between India and Pakistan and the 1999 Lahore Declaration by the leaders of the two nations had left no scope for any third party to play any role in settling outstanding disputes between the two South Asian neighbours.

The senior diplomats in New Delhi and Washington D.C. last month had to resort to damage-control measures after the American President had warned of “retaliation” against New Delhi if the Modi government had not allowed the US to import Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) drug from India for the COVID-19 patients. New Delhi had eventually allowed export of the drug to the US, but Trump’s warning of “retaliation” had prompted opposition parties to accuse the Modi government of being weak-kneed while dealing with the Washington D.C. What made it even worse for New Delhi was that it had come just a couple of months after India had rolled out a red carpet for the US President. 

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Trump had earlier publicly ridiculed Modi for the high tariff India had imposed on Harley Davidson motorcycles imported from the US. “When they (Harley Davidson) send a motorcycle to India, as an example, they have to pay 100 percent tax, 100 percent,” he had said in February 2018. “Now, the Prime Minister (Modi), who I think is a fantastic man, called me the other day and said we are lowering it to 50 percent. I said okay, but so far we’re getting nothing. So we get nothing. He gets 50 (percent), and they think we’re doing like they’re doing us a favour. That’s not a favour."

The US President had also mocked at India's role in Afghanistan. India has since long been keeping its role in Afghanistan limited to funding development projects in the conflict-ravaged country without sending troops to join the war against Taliban or Islamic State.

“I could give you an example where I get along very well with India and Prime Minister Modi. But he is constantly telling me, he built a library in Afghanistan. Library! That's like five hours of what we spend (in Afghanistan),” Trump had said in January 2019. He was trying to draw a comparison between the amount of money the US and other countries are spending in Afghanistan. “And, he (Modi) tells me. He is very smart. We are supposed to say, 'Oh! Thank you for the library!' Don't know who's using it (the library) in Afghanistan. But it's one of those things. I don't like being taken advantage of.”

India had by then spent $3 billion to finance a number of development projects in Afghanistan, including road, power transmission network and hydro-electric-cum-irrigation projects. It had not yet funded construction of a library though. But the American President had apparently mistaken the new Afghan Parliament building, which the Government of India had constructed at a cost of $ 90 million, as “a library”. The Prime Minister and the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had inaugurated the new building in Kabul on December 25, 2015.

Trump had rubbed New Delhi the wrong way on Afghanistan again in August 2019 too, saying it had not been fair that India had not fought the Islamic State terrorists in Afghanistan. “Look, India is right there. They are not fighting it (IS). We (the US) are fighting it,” Trump had told journalists in Washington D.C.


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