Hugs, handshakes and even a slap on the wrist—that’s how the “true friendship” between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump has played out since the latter took office. The optics are usually great, but Trump’s mercurial nature has often been a cause of embarrassment for Modi. The Prime Minister’s highly touted US visit this time is no different.
At the ‘Howdy Modi’ event on Sunday, without naming Pakistan, Modi said, “Whether it is 9/11 in the United States or 26/11 in Mumbai, where can its conspirators be found?”. With Trump present at the event, he also called for a “decisive fight” against terrorism and “those who promote terrorism”.
Most major newspapers at home played this up on Monday, saying that the allies had made a “strong statement against sponsors of terror”.
Modi’s flattery of Trump seems to border on endorsement, which has riled up the Congress back home. While introducing Trump at ‘Howdy Modi’, the Prime Minister said, “The words of candidate Trump—Abki Baar Trump Sarkar—rang loud and clear and his celebration in the White House lit up millions of faces with joy and appreciation”.
The Sunday event, as Brajesh Upadhyay of BBC points out, was a chance for Trump to court Indian-Americans months ahead of the 2020 US elections. For Modi, Upadhyay says, it was a PR triumph and might “help him shrug off the criticism over his recent strong-arm polices at home”.
Republicans have been trying for years to woo Indian Americans, who register and vote at high rates, Politico points out. The report cites a poll by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which says that over 80% of Indian Americans voted for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Despite the bonhomie and Modi’s flattery of Trump, the US President’s double speak on Pakistan and Prime Minister Imran Khan should be a matter of concern to the Indian Prime Minister.
Choose your BFF already, Trump
A day after the ‘Howdy Modi’ event, Trump met Khan on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York and said he “trusts Pakistan”.
“I trust this gentleman right here. And I do trust Pakistan. I know — I have a lot of Pakistani friends living in New York. They’re smart. Great negotiators, by the way, in case you had any questions. They’re among the toughest negotiators in the world.”
When asked if he endorses Modi’s claims that Pakistan is the hub of terrorism, Trump said, “Well, I really have been pointing much more to Iran. I mean, Iran if you look at what, that’s been really the state of terror.”
After offering to mediate again on Kashmir if both sides agreed, Trump said he heard a “very aggressive” statement on Sunday. “I was sitting there and I heard a very aggressive statement yesterday from India, from the Prime Minister, and I will say it was very well received within the rule—you know, within in the room.”
Ahead of the bilateral meeting with Khan, Trump said that he has a “good relationship” with both Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minister Khan.
The fact that a day after praising Modi, Trump refused to endorse Modi’s allegations on terrorism and Pakistan and lavished generous praise on Khan was not lost on commentators on Twitter.
This is not the first time Trump has done a flip-flop on India and Pakistan. Last year, he cut aid to Islamabad, saying that Pakistan doesn’t “do a damn thing” for the US. In November last year, he forced Khan to react after saying in a Fox News interview, cited by Reuters, that Osama bin Laden had been living in “a nice mansion” in Pakistan next to a military academy and “everybody in Pakistan knew he was there”.
Trump has also put Modi in a tough spot often. In July, he said the Prime Minister had asked him to mediate on Kashmir, leading to a huge outcry in India with opposition parties demanding an explanation from Modi. India was forced to deny that Modi asked for mediation, insisting that it can only be discussed bilaterally.
Trump’s statements run counter to India’s aim of isolating Pakistan within the international community. This may not be the last time the mercurial US president embarrasses his “true friend” Modi.