Failed diplomacy: Trump declines India’s invitation

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Despite a good rapport between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Turmp, India and the US have had differences over a range of geopolitical issues including the Indian government deciding to buy the Russian S-400 long-range missile system and India’s insistence on buying oil from Iran despite US sanctions, which did not go down well with the Trump administration.

Some diplomats have
criticized, “The US had warned India of serious consequences before it inked a
deal to purchase Russian S-400 long-range missile system and continued to
import crude oil from Iran. After this warning from US and when US threatened
India, it is really a very immature steps to Invite US president Donald Trump
for 26th January India’s Republic Day all of sudden. It clearly
indicates that after US’s threaten and warn it rattled Modi Govt and this alarm
circumstance forced to Modi for a premature invitation to Trump. In 2015
January, before three years back the then US President Barak Obama had chief
guest, so within a span of just three year India’s invitation to Trump again it
is like flattery and it is clear signal that Modi Government is very much
worried on US warning and threaten. Therefore US President Donald Trump
declined India’s invitation is a failure in diplomacy.”

The decision of the US President Donald Trump to decline India’s
invitation to be chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations is indicative of
the fact that the relations between the two countries are under heavy strain
and have reached to a low point after New Delhi decided to buy a sophisticated
missile system from Russia and continued to import crude oil from Iran despite
sanctions the US had imposed on both the countries.

The Indian government had to pass through an embarrassing
situation when someone at the highest level in India’s foreign establishment
leaked information about the invitation extended to the US President to become
chief guest at the Republic Day function to a group of selective media.
Normally, formal invites to leaders for Republic Day are sent after their
confirmation about the attendance. In this case normal practice was not adhered
to, which prompted the world particularly hostile neighbours to mock at their
rival.

The US President Trump declined India’s invitation to be the chief
guest at the Republic Day celebrations saying the President has a “crowded
agenda” back home and can’t be in India for Republic Day.

The government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi who is often
projected as a leader who has very friendly and cordial relations with most of
the world leaders, should only be held responsible for display of such an
immature piece of diplomacy. The government was fully aware of the economic and
military sanctions the US had imposed on Russia for its interference in Syria
and for pursuing its nuclear programme by Iran. Still India went ahead and
entered into multi-billion US$ defence deals with the Russia arguing it cannot
compromise with its sovereignty.

The refusal was conveyed in the form of a letter by the US
administration to the National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.

True, the Indian defence establishment urgently needed the
modernization of its weaponry and missile system, but it could have adopted a
flexible approach to minimise the adverse implications of the Russia-India
defence deal. The US had warned India of serious consequences before it inked a
deal to purchase Russian S-400 long-range missile system which is termed at the
best ever missile system currently available in the global market.

The S-400 missile system is arguably the world’s deadliest
surface-to-air missile and the US believes the weapon can bring imbalance on
the battlefield if it falls in wrong hands. Russia’s deployment of the missile
system in Syria, the western countries world sees as a threat to its
territories.India became the second buyer of Russia’s S-400 missile system
after China.

Even after the deal was through, the Trump administration had
threatened India saying it will shortly come to know the consequences of having
defence equipment purchase agreement with the Russia. Finally, that threat
turned into reality in the shape of turning down the invitation for Republic
Day function. The reason behind rebuffing India amounts to sending message to
its allies that they should not dare to buy military weapons from any hostile
country and any violation of directive issued at the time of imposition of
sanctions on Russia and Iran could further complicate the situation for
existing as well as potential allies.

Another significant reason for Trump to decline India’s invitation
is the fast changing political situation back home. Generally, The US President
makes his address to the State in the last week of January. When former US
President Barack Obama had visited India in the January 2015 and was honoured
as Republic Day chief guest, he had rescheduled his address to the state
programme to fly to India because domestic political situation in the US at
that time was conducive to the Republicans as they had majority in both the
Houses of the US Congress.

However, the situation this time is quite opposite, and it is more
important for Trump to address the nation than coming to India because his
Republican party that currently has majority in Senate as well as House of
Representatives, is all set to lose majority at least in one of the Houses of
Congress when the country goes for a midterm polls next month and result of the
elections would be out by the time the address to the nation takes place. He
cannot afford to take a chance as in the event of an inevitable defeat, the
opposition democrats have plans to move an impeachment motion in either of the
Houses against the President, who had not even completed half term of his
tenure.

India’s foreign office is yet to make a comment on the refusal of
invitation. Some former diplomats are of the view that the refusal has come at
a time when the relations between the Washington and New Delhi are not in the
best of health. It could further deteriorate the mutual trust that has
developed during and in aftermath of signing of landmark India-US civil nuclear
energy pact few years back. The Trump administration has been threatening India
with sanctions if it continues to procure oil from Iran, which New Delhi has
been ignoring.

With the US President declining the invite, the foreign office has
now swung into action and is looking for some other head of the state who could
be invited to be the chief guest for Republic Day. However, the search for a
new chief guest for Republic Day function at the Rajpath of
Delhi seems all set to hit the road block because after the refusal by the US
President it is unlikely that any other world leader barring king of Bhutan,
will accept the invitation.

The unfortunate event has also come up as an instrument for the
opposition parties to corner the government for its diplomatic failure putting
the country in an embarrassing and awkward situation.

“It is a diplomatic faux pas and avoidable embarrassment. There
was no justification to have extended the invitation without first ascertaining
that the US President will accept it. This is the failure of Indian diplomacy.
They should have avoided it,” said Anand Sharma, senior Congress leader and a
former union minister.

India’s continued dependency on its traditional friend Russia for
supply of military equipments and missile system to meet country’s growing
defence requirements to counter threats from its western and northern
neighbouring countries of Pakistan and China has also not gone down well with
the Trump administration as the US wanted to replace Russia as suppliers of
arms to India. Russia has been the prime supplier of defence equipments to
India for a long time. The majority of Indian defence system is built in
Russia.

The relations between two traditional supplier and buyer Russia
and India had hit a low when Russia decided to sale military equipments to
Pakistan also. India had expressed its unhappiness to the Russian government.
However, the Russian President Vladimir Putin allayed all India’s concerns
during his recent visit when he assured that his country’s relations with other
countries would not be built at the cost of its ties with its old and trusted
friend India.

Apparently, the ongoing controversy over the Republic Day function
seems a no big deal in the long course of US-India relations. But the rebuff on
the part of the US will be difficult to forget and has the potential of
becoming a factor in the policy making in the future. It took a long time to
India to win over the confidence of the United States. The mistrust between the
two had reached its peak when the US warships had sailed towards Indian waters
in 1971 in an attempt to browbeat India. It was a fine display and conduct of
the then Indian diplomacy and concrete follow up action that helped the country
shed the image of an unfriendly country and come this far. It would seem to be
a pity to waste it all for one brass and buttons function.

The rag-tag coalition government at the centre led
by Modi had extended the invitation to Trump keeping in mind that it would pave
and way for normalization of the already strained relations between the two.
However, in the wake of the refusal by the US President it seems that the
India’s foreign establishment still needs to work hard to bring the bilateral
relations back on a right track.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under
Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely
those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of
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