India’s prime minister Narendra Modi was among the first leaders US president-elect Donald Trump spoke to following his surprise win over Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton last Wednesday (9).
The leaders of the world’s largest democracies vowed to build on stronger bilateral ties as Modi, India’s president Pranab Muk-herjee and opposition and Congress leader Sonia Gandhi, all congratulated Trump hours after he was declared the winner in the bitterly contested US presidential election.
“Continuing to build on the bedrock of strong Indo-US relations. PM spoke just now to @realDonaldTrump to congratulate him on his election,” India’s external affairs ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup tweeted last Wednesday.
“PM conveyed his best wishes & the two leaders looked forward to working closely to take the #IndiaUS strategic partnership to a new height.”
Earlier, Modi tweeted his congratulations and thanked Trump for the “friendship” shown to India during the campaign.
“Congratulations @realDonaldTrump on being elected as the 45th US President. We appreciate the friendship you have articulated towards India during your campaign,” Modi said on Twitter.
Trump courted Indian-American voters in the run-up to election day, releasing a campaign advertisement in Hindi for Diwali, the festival of lights celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains.
In the ad, Trump adapted a catchphrase used by Modi in his successful 2014 run for India’s top job – Ab Ki Baar Trump Sarkaar, which translates as ‘this time a Trump government’ – and said he was looking forward to working with the Indian leader.
Mukherjee also congratulated Trump and and expressed hope that a “new era” will be ushered in the growing Indo-US partnership.
In her congratulatory message, Gandhi said she hoped he would have a great tenure in the Oval Office and that the India-US relationship would be strengthened during his presidency.
As Trump, a billionaire businessman who has never held public office, and his transition team were working this week on picking members of his cabinet and the heads of federal agencies, some reports said Indian-American Republican governor from Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, could be among his choices.
On foreign policy, however, there is expected to be no change, and experts believe relations with India will continue as they did under the administration of president Barack Obama.
Indeed, Modi himself alluded to this on Tuesday, at an informal gathering in New Delhi.
“He feels the incoming Republican administration will be well inclined towards India,” the Times of India newspaper said, reporting on his interaction at a dinner with Indian parliamentarians.
Last month, while on the campaign trail, Trump heaped praise on India while speaking at a rally organised by the Indian American community in New Jersey.
Describing India as a “key strategic ally”, he vowed that if voted to power, India and the US would become “best friends” and have a “phenomenal future” together.
“India’s is the world’s largest democracy and is a natural ally of the US. Under a Trump administration, we are going to become even better friends; in fact, I would take the term better out and we would be best friends,” Trump, 70, told a cheering crowd of Indian-Americans at a charity event organised by the Republican Hindu Coalition on October 15.
“We are for free trade. We will have good trade deals with other countries. We are going to do a lot of business with India. We are going to have a phenomenal future together,” he added.
He lauded Modi for taking India on a “fast track growth” with a series of economic reforms and reforming bureaucracy, saying it was required in the US too.
“I look forward to working with prime minister Modi who has been very energetic in reforming the economy and bureaucracy. Great man. I applaud him,” the president-elect said.
Trump has invested in real estate in India and reminded the audience that he has “two massive developments in India, very successful, wonderful, wonderful partners, very beautiful”.
He said: “I have great friends and great confidence in India. Incredible people and an incredible country.”
Despite his divisive rhetoric on immigrants, Trump had nothing but praise for the Indian American community.
“Generations of Hindus and Indian-Americans have strengthened our country,” he said and noted that the Indian community was celebrated for having the highest rate of entrepreneurship.
Observers believe there will be little change in relations between the US and India under Trump.
The American ambassador to India, Richard Verma said after the results last week, “At a time of deep political polarisation in our country, enhancing the US India partnership is something that is refreshingly unifying across the political divide. We have greater convergence on the big issues of the day.
“We have made it clear that we support India’s rise as a global power.”
Former Indian envoy to the US, Lalit Mansingh, said: “When the dust settles, I don’t think India will have cause for complaint under a Trump presidency.”
Although Trump has yet to lay out a detailed policy for south Asia, tackling terrorism will be a priority. He told Fox News in May that he would favour keeping nearly 10,000 US troops in Afghanistan “because it’s adjacent and right next to Pakistan which has nuclear weapons”.