Trump or Clinton? Should India care?

With the US elections entering the decisive phase, after the conventions, the outcome is up in the air. Either candidate can win this. Going by the way campaigns are run and by the way conventions were managed, Hillary Clinton definitely seems to have an edge.

Under Barack Obama and Narendra Modi’s stewardship, one can definitely say that the Indo-US relationship has moved a notch up. It is no mean achievement for India that Obama hasn’t visited Pakistan, after visiting India – as was the norm earlier. However, what direction this will take, in a way, will determine PM Modi’s success in the economic and foreign policy fronts. This isn’t a conventional Republican and Democratic way of dealing with India. The candidates come with too much of a baggage to substantially alter the direction or give fillip to the relationship.

It is increasingly becoming clear that if Donald Trump wins this November, we have to expect the unconventional in the foreign policy front. Trump will not look at India (or for that matter any country) through the GOP lens. The way he has embraced Russia and the way he is belittling NATO allies, India needs a lot to think about.

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Yes, Trump has mentioned on occasions that Pakistan is where the terror begins. But does it really mean he will favour India? Most of Trump’s understanding has been business like. As John Allen said during the Democratic convention, Trump sees foreign policy as a business transaction. What can India offer Trump to win him over? Will Trump keep his word?

On the economic front, Trump is running a campaign against immigrants. With the Republic party also aligning with him on this tough immigration policy, one can expect difficult times for IT vendors. The impact on the number of H1B/L1 visas will likely have a negative impact on the IT industry.  Also, PM Modi’s “Make in India” will have a serious challenge, if the American companies (like Boeing, etc) back away from their decision to set up a facility in India.

Continuing on the economic front, Trump’s plan are expected to increase deficit in US. How will this have a follow-on effect across the world, is anybody’s guess. Will India continue to enjoy FDI inflows? What are the fall-back options for India?

Hope Indian policy makers are actively working out alternate plans, if faced with such a scenario.

On the other hand, Hillary Clinton offers much more predictable relationship. I am not judging if that will be a favourable one or not. That depends on various factors. One thing is given: based on Modi’s record, he will go out of his way to get her to India’s side. Will that be enough?

Simply from a political point of view, there is merit for Clinton to continue with Obama’s policies. Both coming from the same party, many of the advisers are likely to continue. Also, Clinton would do well not to negate a major success in Obama’s foreign policy legacy. Also, Indian-Americans have, in the 2012 elections, voted decisively in favour of democrats. If this continues in 2016, one can expect PM Modi to leverage some of this towards India.

Historically, it is perceived that Clinton will be softer on Pakistan. Will she continue or follow President Obama’s lead? It is important to remember that Clinton had backed the mission to kill Osama Bin Laden. Has this changed her views on Pakistan’s trustworthiness as a reliable partner?

And then, there is the issue of Clinton’s proximity to various NGOs. With Modi government, rightly, going after the crooks – will Hillary feel the heat?

USA and India now have a common issue to deal with – the South China Sea. Obama and Modi have spoken in one voice opposing China’s moves. It is fair to assume that, on this one, Clinton will follow Obama. However, how influential can Modi be? What more can India do to thwart China’s moves there?

Unlike Trump, Clinton is unlikely to be a shock to world business. She is more of a status-quo candidate. Which is probably what the market will prefer, when confronted with the other option.

Hopefully, the next 100 days will give us some answers.


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