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Featured Blog: The Trump presidency and the future of Indo-American relations

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So Donald Trump will be the 45th president of the United States. Somehow, the words Trump and president just don’t go together, but credit must be given where it’s due.

Trump managed to prove a majority of the pollsters wrong and claimed one of the most shocking victories in recent history. I never would have thought he would take the Rust Belt states of Wisconsin and Michigan, which have voted Democratic since 1984 and 1988, respectively. Heck, I even predicted Clinton would win Michigan by a close margin. He proved everyone wrong, and here he stands as the president-elect.

His victories have started protests across the U.S., and people, especially left-leaning individuals, are demanding an end to the Electoral College. This in turn has set off debates about the electoral system and the rise of the “alt-right” and the far-left.

The issue of foreign relations has arisen as well. In this article, I’ll be focusing on potential changes in the relationship between U.S. and my home country, India.

India has a growing economy with a vastly untapped market. With the second-largest population in the world and a rapidly growing purchasing power, many foreign corporations are hungrily eyeing our comparatively fresh market.

Manmohan Singh, finance minister under former Prime Minister Narsimha Rao, was the first to open the markets. Singh went on to become the prime minister later, but was highly ineffectual. Current Prime Minister Narendra Modi represents the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (i.e. Indian People’s Party, generally abbreviated to BJP). Traditionally a Hindu nationalist party, the BJP is slowly mollifying its social conservative stance and is now focusing more on economic development.

India has a booming IT sector and a strong manufacturing industry. Jobs in the private sector are on the rise, and competition is growing. A lot of these jobs, especially related to the IT sector, are outsourced ones from the U.S. Many Indians are terrified by the prospect of Trump’s nativist rhetoric affecting the availability of such jobs.

(As a student who is currently studying computer science, I must say this rhetoric terrifies me a bit as well. But to be fair, President Obama’s “say no to Bangalore, yes to Buffalo” statement in 2009 generated similar panic, and nothing really changed.)

Students intending to study in the U.S comprise another anxious group. There were 169,518 Indians studying in the U.S. in 2015, and the number is bound to rise. With Trump’s win, a lot of students are now considering their options. Some of my friends have also started looking at opportunities in countries like Australia, New Zealand and Germany.

What’s even scarier for us right now is Trump’s pick for attorney general. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, has been a consistent opponent of immigration, both legal and illegal. His desire to do away with the H1B visa (a nonimmigrant visa for high-skilled workers) is bound to  ruffle some feathers back home.

Emigration to developed countries is one way highly skilled workers get decent paying and sustainable jobs. India is the second most populous country in the world. More than 1.5 million engineers graduate every year in India. It is virtually impossible for all of them to get a sustainable job here, regardless of the quantity of industrialization that takes place. Removal of the H1B visa will be a huge setback to all who want to get such jobs.

Trump’s rhetoric about Muslim countries has struck a chord with a lot of conservatives here. India’s neighbor Pakistan is radicalizing itself faster than our economic growth (Anti-Pakistan joke. I’m an Indian … can’t help myself). This was seen in the 2011 assassination of Punjab Gov. Salmaan Taseer, who was killed because of his opposition to the archaic Pakistani Blasphemy Law. His assassin was cheered by many people and was considered a martyr after his hanging.

This sentiment is not a fringe sentiment. Apart from the people who cheered, Mujahid Ali Khan, a member of the Pakistan National Assembly (comparable to a congressman) from the leading opposition party named Pakistan Tehreek – i -Insaaf ( abbreviated as PTI, a supposedly Radical Centrist Party), asked the Parliament to forgive Taseer’s assassin.

The PTI was started by former cricketer Imran Khan, who had earlier supported the Taliban, saying the group’s actions in Afghanistan are like a “holy war” and are justified in Islam. The PTI is the third largest party in Pakistan’s National Assembly and is the largest party in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa state assembly, the most terror infested province of Pakistan. It’s being said that Khan has a decent chance of becoming Pakistan’s next Prime Minister.  Also, terrorists based in Pakistan have been attacking Kashmiri areas in India for a long time. Trump’s support to India’s retaliation and his decision to call Pakistan a terror state has been received warmly here.

As for Indian reception of Trump, BJP shared a congratulatory video on Election Day on its official YouTube page. I believe Modi and Trump might get along famously. Modi is a business-oriented leader, and Trump seems like one, too.  If Trump reassures the Indian masses that there will be no problem getting the student and H1B visas, Indians might turn a blind eye on his nativism and political incorrectness. If he supports India in our actions against terrorism, he might even be considered a hero.

Trump’s war on the American media also has the potential to be popular in India. We have an emerging alternative media in India, and most of these sites lean more toward the right than the traditional newspapers, such as The Times of India and the Indian Express. Leaders like Justin Trudeau and Obama are popular here because the majority of newspapers never bothered to cover the real issues of Obamacare and other such left leaning populist acts. They tried to do the same thing regarding India.

While comments and actions of the right wing BJP leaders are quickly criticized, the leaders of the Indian National Congress (generally called Congress here, this is a left leaning centrist party which believes in a mixed economy) and the Aam Aadmi Party (literally the common man party, a centrist populist party created by a former bureaucrat) are often given a blind eye. As a result, the public mistrust of the liberal media is on the rise here as well.

Trump has a great opportunity to bolster Indo-U.S. relations, which have strained a bit under the Obama administration. Indians were never fond of John Kerry, and his nomination as the secretary of state was not really appealing. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had done a brilliant job in strengthening the relations between the two countries, and Trump has a chance to do the same by appointing someone with her views. Newt Gingrich is openly pro-India and his appointment as secretary of state will be greatly appreciated by Indians.

All in all, there are an exciting four years ahead of us. All we can do is wait and watch as two right-wing governments try to embolden their relationship.

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