1. Trump’s Visit to India: Cementing India-US Ties and an Emerging Indian Global Role
Trump’s India visit marked a landmark in India-US ties and sent out a strong domestic and international message about India’s new position as a global, assertive power. The crowds of more than a million people that cheered for Trump in Ahmedabad, on the way to the Motera stadium – the world’s largest stadium – and during his rally with PM Modi, were unprecedented in a foreign visit of a head of state to India, bringing back memories of days when Nehru used to greet visiting heads of state with huge crowds. At the time, a newly emergent India – free from the yoke of colonial rule – was seeking to establish her international role, in spite of many odds. At the time, US and its western allies were – in connivance with Pakistan on Kashmir – biased against India.
Over the decades, the West – especially the US – has resisted India’s rise, with this bias breaking only after the mid-1990s when India’s growing economic and military clout became too hard to ignore. No matter however much looted of her prosperity and brutalized by the British rule, India – even at her lowest and most isolated points since 1947 – has always remained a dignified, strong, culturally powerful and assertive nation, and never tried appeasing any country for the sake of temporary gains. Understandably, the West has been, both, mystified and uncomfortable with an India that – unlike many other Asian countries – refused to toe the standards of modernity set by the West, leaving her unique stamp even while engaging with a newly emergent world order post-Second World War and after the 1990s.
Since those times of Nehru till the present-day visit of Trump, India has come a full circle, through all the travails in the intervening decades. India and US are finally embracing each other without the past hiccups and frictions, and this is happening without India bowing down to Western standards of modernity or US’s instructions on politics, and in her own capacity as an independent power. This was also one of those unique, landmark visits by a US President when not only mere technical economic and political aspects were emphasized, but the mainstay of the relationship was put in a deeper context of India’s own civilizational values and culture, with Trump invoking Indian figures from Swami Vivekananda to Sachin Tendulkar.
The irony that this is happening under an Indian PM who was once banned by Western countries – such as US and UK – for his political assertion of Hindu cultural identity, is also not lost. In his current visit, Trump could not stop showering enough compliments on PM Modi as a ‘strong’, ‘great’ and ‘tough’ leader, through his speech. Even as he acknowledged and admired India’s culture, plurality and civilization, he criticized the current political and cultural bane of India viz. ‘radical Islamic terrorism’ in clear words.
Even as Trump acknowledged that the US is positively working with Pakistan to curb terror groups operating from the latter’s soil, this was an endorsement of India’s decades-old position that Pakistan was home to terror groups, which the West had always turned a blind ear to. The fact that the US was working positively with Pakistan to curb these groups was, thus, a reassurance to India, rather than a rope to Pakistan. The fact that Pakistan in a FATF meeting (on terror funding) just before Trump’s visit was retained on the ‘grey list’, with India being backed by Saudi Arabia and China, US and other western powers, was a practical reinforcement of Pakistan’s new pariah status as a result of success of India’s international lobbying.
Trump’s visit also put to rest negative and wild media speculations – masquerading as facts – that Pakistan will regain importance for the US and regional power due to its role in brokering the US-Taliban peace deal. Not only was such imaginary importance not visible in action or words, but this also turned out to be a first standalone visit by a US President to India, without visiting any other country on the way. Previous US Presidents – like Obama and Bush – had always attempted to hyphenate India and Pakistan based on a compulsion to treat both the countries equally. With this visit of Trump, this artificial hyphenation was broken.
Pakistan’s protests – since a few days earlier – that if US sells integrated air defence weapons system to India, it would undermine the ‘regional balance’ were dismissed without a response, even as the sales were approved in mid-February. During the present visit, US and India signed a $3 billion deal for the sale of helicopter systems – Romeo MH-60 and Apache, which are among the best in the world – and other equipment to India, with Trump emphasizing US’s intentions to sell “some of the best, most feared, military equipment on the planet” to India.
These defence purchases simply build upon the stronger and closer defence partnership instituted during the past 3 years, due to agreements signed during the 2018 2+2 format, Industrial Security Annex (ISA) in 2019 and US’s updation of India’s status to Strategic Trade Authorization (STA-1) partnership level in 2018. Together, these initiatives open up space to share advanced defence technology with Indian industries and private sector defence manufacturing, and, facilitate India’s role as global manufacturer and supplier of US defence products. Besides defence, in other bilateral areas, the US also discussed the proposal of Blue Dot Network for India to consider joining. The Blue Dot Network consists of US, Australia and Japan. It aims to bring governments, civil society and private sector together to promote high quality and trusted standards for global infrastructure projects. Its objective is to rate infrastructural projects, much like a rating agency would do, thereby influencing the flow of private finance and investments into these projects. Politically, it is seen as a counter to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, especially in the Indo-Pacific region.
The progress in India-US defence partnership, which has speeded up over the last five years, has proceeded in parallel with the growing political alignment between the two countries. This is very important for India. Over the last few months, since Modi came back to power in May 2019, the Indian government has taken important domestic decisions which have had global resonances. All these decisions have revolved around an assertion of India’s position that foreign-funded anti-India elements will not be allowed to survive in the country and that national interest will take precedence over any political expediency.
The result has been the abrogation of decades-old special status guaranteed to Kashmir under Article 370 which had always been sowing the seeds of separatism and terrorism in the Valley. While Kashmir is in a much more peaceful and stable situation now, more than it has ever been, India has had to fend off the attacks from the global and domestic media/NGOs, Indian Muslims and domestic secular political parties and foreign countries like Pakistan and Turkey. The US has staunchly supported India’s position throughout.
Another significant decision – apart from significant developments like Ram Janmabhoomi verdict – was the legislation on Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) which seeks to fast-track or reduce the time-period required for granting citizenship to persecuted minorities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who had entered India on or before December 21, 2014. The CAA debate has resulted in an unprecedented, well-planned and funded and organized Muslim backlash in the Indian cities in form of ‘protests’ since December 2019. Just when Trump was in India, well-planned siege was underway in Delhi with Muslim mobs occupying key roads and metro stations and unleashing violence in Muslim-majority areas in north-east Delhi, with Hindus responding with strong defensive retaliation. The Muslim violence, now being acknowledged even by Modi critics due to common sense, was planned to provoke the police into a crackdown and thus show India in a poor light by hijacking the otherwise hugely successful visit of Trump.
As a result, even as Trump was visiting Delhi on February 25th, parts of the city were burning, with casualties now almost touching 50 people. The riots ended – as well as Muslim siege on Delhi metro stations – as soon as Trump left.
Despite these circumstances, Trump not only refused to comment on Delhi violence, but even when he was goaded by media by being asked pointed questions, he maintained that all this is India’s internal matter. He repeated the same position for Article 370, CAA and other decisions. Not only that, he even put a CNN journalist in place by replying to an insult by saying that CNN’s record in telling the truth was ‘so bad’ that it should be ‘ashamed of itself’.
The press conference in which Trump left the media disappointed as well as his entire visit was politically significant as it marked a departure from the past US tradition of visiting Presidents inevitably monotonously preaching India on improving its human rights and religious freedom’s record. Trump not only defied that tradition – despite the varying positions taken by US bipartisan House foreign affairs committee and other bodies – but even complimented India by saying that Modi’s efforts in this area were commendable.
Trump’s visit, the memorabilia preceding it and the aftermath of the visit highlighted the new turn of US-India relations. Despite being slammed by Leftists and Bernie Sanders for not commenting on Delhi violence, Trump returned to a political rally in South Carolina to recall and appreciate the huge crowds that cheered for him in India, saying that he can never get excited about crowds in the U.S. after visiting India, and once again praised Modi.
2. Ayodhya Developments:
In early February, the government named the 15-member trust of the ‘Shri Ram Janambhoomi Teertha Kshetra’ trust, as mandated by the Supreme Court.
The members include senior lawyer K. Parasaran, Jagatguru Shankracharya, Swami Vasudevanand Saraswati Ji Maharaj, Prasannatheerth Ji Maharaj, Yugpurush Paramanand Ji Maharaj, Swami Govinddev Giri Ji Maharaj, Vimlendra Mohan Pratap Mishra from Ayodhya, Anil Mishra who is a homoeopathic doctor from Ayodhya, Kameshwar Chaupal who is a Scheduled Caste member and laid the first foundation stone, and, Mahant Dinendra Das from Nirmohi Akhara.
There will also be nomination of 2 prominent practicing Hindus on the following basis:
- One representative will be nominated by the Centre who shall be a practising Hindu by religion and a serving member of the IAS and who shall not be below the rank of joint secretary to Government of India and shall be an ex officio member. Additional secretary Home Ministry, Gyanesh Kumar, was appointed as representative of the Centre.
- One representative will be nominated by the UP government who shall be a practising Hindu and an IAS officer and shall not be below the rank of secretary to the UP government and shall be an ex officio member. Avneesh Awasthy, Additional Chief Secretary Uttar Pradesh, was appointed as representative of the state government.
The Ayodhya district collector will be the ex officio trustee who shall be a practising Hindu. If the incumbent collector is not a practising Hindu, the additional collector of Ayodhya who shall be a practising Hindu shall be an ex officio member. Currently, Ayodhya District Magistrate, Anuj Kumar Jha, holds the position.
On 19th February, in the first meeting of the trust held in New Delhi, Mahant Nritya Gopal Das was elected as the President and VHP leader Champat Rai was made the General Secretary of the trust. PM Modi’s former Principal Secretary, Nripendra Misra, was made the head of the temple construction committee of the trust. Swami Govinddev Giri of Pune was appointed as the treasurer of the trust at the meeting.
The trust will be in charge of entire 67.7-acre of land. It will initially function from the residence of K. Parasaran till a permanent office is found. The UP government allotted 5 acre land for construction of a mosque at a site which is 30 km away from Ram temple, to the Sunni Central Waqf Board. After initially rejecting this site as not being a part of Ayodhya proper, the Waqf Board has now accepted it.
According to VHP, crores of donations have already been offered by individuals while companies such as Larsen & Turbo (L&T) have offered to construct the temple free of cost. VHP also wants that every Hindu house should contribute to the Ram temple construction by seeking Rs. 10 donation from every house.
The next meeting of the trust is scheduled to be held after Holi. The date when construction of the temple would begin, the final date of shifting of the idols, the final blueprint as well as the construction agency details are also expected to be finalized and announced soon. Tentatively, the idols are expected to be shifted from the earlier makeshift temple to a new makeshift one at the site, on March 25th when the Navaratri starts, to enable the pilgrims to offer worship at the site.