Over the past two decades, relations between India and the United States have improved quite dramatically. There have been some vicissitudes, such as those over India’s stance on global trade negotiations and legal issues surrounding the US-India civilian nuclear agreement. But the progress is clear by most measures, such as the volume of trade—while the two countries traded goods worth $9.5 billion in 1996, last year that figure stood at $62.1 billion. Various intergovernmental dialogues, in areas such as education, energy and counterterrorism, also point to the fact that the relationship is now on reasonably secure footing. Donald Trump’s assumption of the US presidency, however, has generated several questions, if not actual misgivings, about the future of these ties.
Even before formally assuming office, Trump upended a series of long-established precedents that have served as guiding principles in US foreign policy. For example, he openly questioned the US commitment to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, raised doubts about the country’s adherence to the “One China” policy, suggested that he may oversee a drastic expansion of the US nuclear arsenal and even cast doubts on the utility of the United Nations Security Council in the wake of a controversial vote on Israeli settlements. These statements and the stances they embody have rattled much of the US foreign policy establishment, not to mention key allies and some adversaries.
Given Trump’s apparent willingness to move away from a number of key current facets of US foreign policy, a pressing question is how he intends to deal with India. But since he has yet to spell out an overarching framework for his foreign policy, in seeking answers, one is forced to search his public pronouncements for clues.
It is already evident that if Trump is sincere about his stated preferences, tensions with India are bound to arise. Take, for example, his railing against the issuance of H1-B visas, which allow US companies to hire foreign workers for limited periods of time, to perform specialised tasks. On occasion, past US administrations also made noises about restricting these visas. But owing to the needs of US corporations, they rarely, if ever, imposed any meaningful constraints. At most, the visa fees associated with the programme were raised.