By Mridu Kumari
What made US President Donald Trump to trudge in political minefield of Kashmir? Was it a deliberate attempt by the US to arm twist India into submission to its dictates, primarily on trade and commerce, defence and strategy? Or was it simply a gaffe the US President indulges in mindlessly, sometimes to the extent of embarrassment for his own administration? Or was it a move aimed at America’s domestic constituency, especially 5.2 million Indian Americans who play a significant role in the US’ electoral politics? It could be anything and Trump loves to walk his own way, without understanding pros and cons of his utterances.
On July 22, during joint press briefing with visiting Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, President Trump said when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met him at the G-20 Summit in Osaka, he had requested him to mediate and solve the Kashmir dispute. India immediately refuted the claim with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar telling Parliament on July 23 that no request was made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to US President Donald Trump regarding any mediation in Kashmir. “I would like to categorically assure the House that no such request has been made by Prime Minister Modi,” Jaishankar told Rajya Sabha.
In view of sharp reaction from India, the US State Department went into a damage-control mode, stating Kashmir was a “bilateral” issue between India and Pakistan. It also said Pakistan taking “sustained and irreversible” step against terrorism was a key to a successful dialogue with India. But it was an astute gambling move by the US President. He didn’t like India’s decision to buy the S-400 air defence missile system. The US has threatened that if India bought the S-400 missile system, considered as the world’s most advanced air defence system, Washington would slap CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) on India. New Delhi has, however, made it clear that it would not come under any pressure. “We will not come under any pressure when it comes to national security,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said while paying tribute to the soldiers killed during the 1999 Kargil War on July 28.
True to this sentiment, New Delhi has not only decided to go ahead with S-400 Triumf missile defence system, it also signed a deal for the purchase of R-27 a medium-to-long-range air-to-air missile from Russia. This missile will be fitted on Su-30 MKI combat aircraft fleet. In March, it signed a $3 billion deal with Moscow to lease a Chakra-III nuclear powered submarine. Then on the lines of US’ foundational military pact, India is to sign the Agreement on Reciprocal Logistics Support (ARLS) with Russia during the meeting between Narendra Modi and President Vladimir Putin in September on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok. All this is not acceptable to the US which wants India to move away from Russia for strong and prosperous relations with America. On the contrary, India wants to improve its ties with all leading powers of the world, including the US. However, like a possessive wife, the US wants that India should remain attached to the former only. It also wants India to comply with sanctions on Iran, but India looks at Tehran as strategically important place to flank Pakistan. To put India in its place, the US has once again sought Pakistan’s help to find way out of Afghanistan. India has been left out of the discussions on the future of Afghanistan and it feels abandoned by the US. In addition, to win over Islamabad to its side, the US has approved military sales of worth $125 million to Pakistan.
However, India appears to be ready to respond to the US game plan. There is a feeling among experts that Indian Americans, who are considered as a silver of the US’ population and have contributed more than $3 million to 2020 presidential campaigns could review their support to Trump’s candidature if he deliberately tries to hurt India. From Kamala Harris to Tulsi Gabbad, a practicing Hindu—all of them have already started warming themselves to over 1 per cent Indian Americans of the total US population.
It should be noted that Indian Americans are recognized as a sizable political force in the American society. They have grown increasingly politically active, donating more to candidates and running for presidential office. Reflecting the community’s leftward tilt, two-thirds of the more than $3 million donated throughout the 2020 election cycle has gone to Democrats, according to an analysis of fundraising reports released July 15. Indian Americans have also donated more than $1 million to committees supporting President Trump. The incumbent has the benefit of being able to accept six-figure checks into a joint fundraising committee with the national and state Republican parties.
The Democratic candidates are limited to donations of up to $2,800 for the primary and $2,800 for the general election. Though Indian American voters have lent their weight in favour of Democrats, but a vocal minority is still standing in support of President Trump. They cite his positions on the economy and fighting Islamist terrorism, an issue the US has struggled with for decades. “On foreign policy, on protection of industry, on creating jobs … he (Trump) has delivered on practically everything he promised,” said Shalabh Kumar, founder of the Republican Hindu Coalition was quoted by an American daily as saying. However, complexities of the US presidential polls are not easy to be understood in one go; in the game of thrones, only smart and capable candidate survives. Trump knows it well.