Though at the receiving end of sharp criticism nearly all over the world and the target of angry demonstrations even in America, Donald Trump has a solid block of supporters in India comprising the saffron camp.
As early as last May, activists of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad observed various propitious Hindu rituals to ensure the Republican candidate’s success.
It is not known whether this intercession with the gods helped Trump, but the reason why the Hindutva lobby has a soft corner for the new American president is clear – it is his vociferous condemnation of Islamic terror and his anti-Muslim outlook, which was evident in his call for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the US.
Although he subsequently revised his statement to call for close vetting, his attitude towards the Muslims has been no different from his stance on immigration in general.
There is little doubt, therefore, that the Narendra Modi government will be more than a little pleased with Trump’s ascent.
What it would obviously like is for him to lean a lot more heavily on Pakistan on the matter of harbouring terrorists – Trump once referred to the presence of “plenty” of terrorists in Pakistan – than what the Barack Obama administration has been willing to do although Hillary Clinton once did speak about Pakistan’s practice of keeping “snakes in the backyard”.
Given this background, there cannot but be considerable concern initially about Trump in Pakistan while India will await a continuation of his hardline stance.
In this context, Pakistan must have noted with furrowed brows the bonhomie between Trump and a group of Indian supporters of the Republican Party who were mostly Hindus.
But the scene in America may not follow an anticipated script. The reason is that power breeds responsibility, the signs of which are already available in Trump’s case.
For instance, the reference to the proposed ban on Muslims on entering the US disappeared from Trump’s website within a day of his victory.
The change is in keeping with his mellower image which was evident in his remark after winning the presidency that the country owed a “debt of gratitude” to Hillary for her contributions although he had vowed to jail her if he won and his supporters chanted “lock her up” during his rallies.
Not surprisingly, Pakistan has latched on to an earlier comment by Trump that he will not mind mediating between India and Pakistan because he wants to see the two countries “get along because that’s a very very hot tinderbox”.
India, however, will not like any mediation since its stand is that all contentious issues between India and Pakistan have to be settled bilaterally in accordance with the 1972 Shimla agreement between Indira Gandhi and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.
If Trump nevertheless talked of mediation, it is patently because he is unaware of India’s position on this matter.
But as he becomes more familiar with the intricacies of India-Pakistan relations, New Delhi will note that an article in Al Jazeera called Trump the “first Islamophobia president” and recalled that an NBC poll showed that 25 per cent of Americans supported Trump’s call for a ban on Muslims entering the US until Washington “can figure out what is going on”.
But it is not only Pakistan which will have reasons to worry. Its all-weather friend, China, too, will be looking for clues in Trump’s pronouncements in the past and at present to ascertain what line he will follow.
It is known, for instance, that Trump believes that the concept of global warming has been “created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive”.
It is for this reason that he has threatened to withdraw the US from the Paris pacts on climate change. But, irrespective of whether he does so or not, the Sino-US relations are bound to be more tense than what they were under previous US administrations.
Again, this may bring New Delhi and Washington (and Japan) closer together, thereby continuing a trend which began with the US moving away from its cold war ally, Pakistan, after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, and strengthening a general impression that the US would like to see India emerge as a counterweight to China.
In any event, Indians have always felt that the Republicans have a more positive attitude towards India as could be seen in the signing of the nuclear deal between the two countries despite opposition from influential newspapers like the New York Times.
In contrast, the attitude of the Democrats was best illustrated by the words and deeds of Robin Raphael, a former First Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia under President Clinton, who had once called for a referendum in Kashmir.
Clinton himself had voiced concern about alleged human rights violations in Kashmir till he realized that borders cannot be redrawn in blood, to use his words.
There is little doubt, therefore, that relations between India and the US will continue to be warm – as it is at present – if Trump is dissuaded by his advisers not to raise the topic of mediating between India and Pakistan.