India optimistic after initial interactions with Donald Trump’s team

Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar’s meetings with officials in the transition team of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump last week have given India the confidence that its relations with the incoming administration will be good, according to sources familiar with the deliberations.

Mr. Jaishankar is understood to have met several “top officials” in the transition team over two days in Washington and New York.

While bracing for considerable uncertainties under the new regime, India’s assessment is that the expected churn could turn out to be beneficial for it. “The jury has not even assembled, let alone deliver a verdict, on what will a Trump administration do,” Mr. Jaishankar told an audience in New Delhi soon after his return from America last week. He said the possibility of a U.S return to bilateral trade negotiations, and questions regarding its resolve to strengthen and use its military power, remain open without immediate answers in sight.

But the emerging shape of the Trump team, and the signals from it, indicate that India will be poised good in its calculus, according to sources. India is also reassured by the presence of several traditional Republicans in the new administration. Reince Priebus, who will be chief of staff to Mr. Trump, has a number of Indian-American friends, and has earlier championed Republican outreach to the community.

Senator Jeff Sessions, who is the pick for Attorney General under the Trump administration and will likely remain a key adviser to Mr. Trump, “has two sides,” pointed out a source. His views on strategic questions are aligned with India’s interests. On immigration and visa issues, particularly the H-1B programme, he could be tough and this could affect some Indian companies dependent on H-1B visas.

But given the increasing political backlash against the H-1B programme in recent years, Indian IT companies have reduced their dependence on it and have switched to a model that involves hiring considerable number of American citizens in the U.S who then support the outsourced operations that are run in India. Unless the new administration targets the business model itself, restrictions on the visa programme will have limited impact, industry sources said.

The Trump team’s strong views on Islamist terrorism and its emphasis on searching for business opportunities make India a natural partner. Mr. Trump considers India an attractive market for his own businesses and he has often said that his presidency will follow the instincts that he has shown as a businessman.

Shalabh ‘Shalli’ Kumar, the founder the Republican Hindu Coalition (RHC), remains one of the Indian links to the Trump team but there are other links too. Mr. Kumar had hosted Mr. Trump at an event billed as a fundraiser for terror victims in India. He was also a major donor to the Trump campaign.

While reasons for optimism are strong, it is unclear whether the new administration will throw its weight behind India on specific issues such as its pending application for membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2021 8:12:08 PM |

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