Passage to America


Raja Mohan, Devesh Kapur, Hardeep Singh Puri, Shivshankar Menon and Robert Blackwill in conversation with Jyoti Malhotra


By Sitamsini Cherukumalli, Official ZEE Literature Festival Blogger


‘International Politics don’t work on the basis of trust,’ remarked C. Raja Mohan, Director of Carnegie India, and acclaimed foreign policy analyst. Today’s talk took place under the shadow of the inauguration of Donald Trump, the 45th President of the United States of America, the explosive candidate, whose position on immigration and trade has created a sense of apprehension among Indians and Indian diaspora all over the world.

Devesh Kapur, author of The Other 1%, remarked on the special position Trump’s election puts the Indian diaspora in. Most Indian-Americans vote Democrat and live in Democrat states, and so will be less affected than those living in those Republic states who voted for Trump. Nonetheless, Kapur urged the audience to recall how the last intense wave of xenophobia in America, in 1916, led to a ‘complete stoppage of immigration until after the end of World War 2,’ which would have huge long term implications for Indian families and communities, if it were to happen again.

When moderator Jyoti Malhotra asked if mainland Indians can expect the diaspora to support or fight for India’s interests, Hardeep Singh Puri, former President of the UN Security Council, and author of Perilous Interventions, cautioned against presuming the support of Indian Americans. However, Shivshankar Menon, author of Choices: Inside the Making of India’s Foreign Policy, disagreed. ‘We saw during the nuclear talks how receptive the diaspora was without giving up its American-ness.’ He argued that, to expect the support of the diaspora, one must ‘create a receptive environment that can engage them.’

Kapur pointed out that second-generation Indian-Americans, unlike their forefathers, are increasingly pursuing legal careers, which often creates the foundation for political careers as well, and remarked this phenomenon might lead to an American foreign policy that is more supportive of India.

All the panelists stressed the importance of caution when it comes to foreign policy, especially because it seems like President Trump is going to deviate from long-followed American policies. Discussing how globalisation has led to a rise of right-wing governments all over the world, including in America, Robert Blackwill, a former Republican remarked, ‘This is the most conservative American congress in 100 years.’

The election of Trump hinged a great deal on the promise of bringing American jobs ‘back to America,’ and Menon, who served as the National Security Advisor to the Indian PM Manmohan Singh, pointed out that this would create spaces for India to step in to the globalized economy. However, Blackwill cautioned that India must be ‘careful what she wished for,’ because that could create a rivalry with China.

The foreign policy positions of Trump, which include a renewed relationship with Russia, could pose many difficulties for India. India’s historic friction with the Pakistani and Chinese governments was often neutralised by the presence of the US, but this sharp departure from history will leave India vulnerable, according to the panelists. ‘Neither our economy nor our military power can compare with China’s,’ said Raja Mohan. Because Trump’s policy so far emphasises putting the US first, withdrawal or apathy from the US towards Indian foreign policy could lead to disaster.

The effect this will have on the Indian diaspora still remains to be seen, and Singh Puri, advising ‘strategic patience.’ Chinese ambitions in the subcontinent must be treated with the utmost caution and political dexterity, but it is important not to make preemptive decisions to defend India against the new order of the US government. ‘India is currently not high on the priorities of the Trump administration, and that’s a good place to be,’ said Menon.

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