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When Donald Trump arrives on Monday, he will be the first US President to visit India on a stand-alone visit in the seven decades of Indo-US diplomatic ties. US Presidents who came to India before him, from Dwight Eisenhower to Barack Obama, all had other stops in the region.

Visits before 2000, and later

Between 1947 and 2000, the first 53 years of India-US ties, there were only three visits by US Presidents to India — Dwight Eisenhower in 1959, Richard Nixon in 1969 and Jimmy Carter in 1978.

In the 20 years since 2000, there have been four visits by three US Presidents — Bill Clinton in 2000, George W Bush in 2006, and Obama in 2010 and 2015. Trump’s will be the fifth.

While only three of the nine US Presidents during 1947-2000 visited India, every President in the last two decades has visited India at least once. Many reasons could be ascribed to the higher frequency of visits — a shift in global geo-politics in the post-Cold War era, India’s economic ascent, rise of an assertive China, and New Delhi’s place on the global high table.

In 2003-04, the first seeds of the Next Steps of Strategic Partnership were sown during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee regime. The relationship peaked with the Indo-US nuclear deal in 2008, which was negotiated during 2005-08 between the Manmohan Singh government and the Bush administration, and is considered the game-changer.

The Obama administration carried forward the relationship, and during his visit in 2010 hosted by Singh, the US promised support to India for a UN Security Council membership.

When Narendra Modi became PM in 2014, Obama navigated the transition and visited again in 2015, when he was the chief guest for the Republic Day celebrations.

After Trump came to power in 2016, there was a shift in the US political landscape as his unpredictability defined his presidency. The Indian government moved fast, and Modi visited the White House in June 2017. Trump promised Modi that he would visit during his term in office. It is in this backdrop that the visit is taking place in a year that will witness US presidential elections.

Support against terrorism

This intense engagement has helped achieve robust support from the US against terrorism. This was evident after the Pulwama attack last year, leading to designation of Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist under UN Security Council Resolution 1267, and the placing of Pakistan on the grey-list of the Financial Action Task Force.

Defence and energy

For India, its relationship with the US on defence issues has strengthened. India has procured over $18 billion worth of defence items from the US, almost half of this in the last five years. India conducts more bilateral exercises with the US than with any other country. And, under Trump, the announcement of India’s elevation to Tier I of the Strategic Trade Authorization licence exception has opened up US defence technologies from the time when India faced a technology-denial regime.

The other area where the relationship has grown in recent years is energy. The bilateral Strategic Energy Partnership was launched in April 2018; India has started importing crude and LNG from the US from 2017 and 2018 respectively. The total imports are estimated at $6.7 billion — having grown from zero. The US is also India’s sixth largest source of crude oil imports, with hydrocarbon imports rising to $7 billion in the last two years.

Overall bilateral trade has grown. The US is India’s largest trading partner, goods and services combined. Bilateral trade in goods and services grew by more than 10% per annum over the past two years to reach $142 billion in 2018.

Areas of contention

The US feels that India is a high tariff country, and wants these reduced and a more predictable regime to conduct business. Although the growth is 10% per year, many feel the potential is much higher.

The other area of contention has been the movement of Indian skilled professionals to the US under the H1B programme. While the US President has always made immigration a key campaign theme, it has not led to any major barriers for Indians so far. But in an election year in the US, the rhetoric could sharpen.

Ties with others

What has differentiated Trump’s engagement with India vis-a-vis US’ allies and strategic allies is that there has been more strategic alignment with New Delhi than with some of Washington’s closest partners. From Indo-Pacific to China, from Maldives to Bangladesh, the two countries are somewhat on the same page.

On Afghanistan, there have been differences in the process. But the situation, South Block insiders feel, is different now since India is much more in the US’ calculus than in 1990. There is a sense of cautious optimism that Washington will not hurt India’s interests in the long term; this premise will be tested.

The strong strategic partnership is also based on an idea of “shared values” of democracy, rule of law, religious freedom and protection of minorities. The revocation of Article 370 and the new citizenship law and the NRC is testing this “shared values” principle. India’s position that these matters are “internal to India” has so far meant the Trump administration has not criticised India openly and sharply. But criticism from the US Congress and some parts of US civil society is pushing the US administration to tell India to bring Kashmir to normalcy and not go ahead with the new citizenship law followed by the NRC, which many see as aiming to exclude minorities.


On Thursday, a committee adopted India’s proposals for including three species — great Indian bustard, Asian elephant and Bengal florican — for additional protection under the UN Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS).

What does the Convention seek to do?

CMS is a treaty agreed by 129 countries plus the European Union, and functions under the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). It works for protection and conservation of species that migrate across frontiers and are facing threats of extinction or require urgent attention. CMS aims to bring together different countries that are part of range of a given species, and facilitate coherent conservation and protection regimes in a group of countries. The conference is being held in India for the first time. Delegates from at least 78 countries are attending.

Why do migratory species need special attention for conservation?

With a change in season, many mammals and birds move from one country to another in search of food and shelter, and for breeding. Asian elephants, also known as Indian elephants, migrate from India to Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Myanmar etc.

What were India’s proposals that were accepted?

India has proposed inclusion of the three species on Appendix-I of the Convention. Appendix-I lists species threatened with extinction, while Appendix-II lists those in need of global cooperation for favourable conservation status. If listed on Appendix-I, it would facilitate trans-boundary conservation efforts of the these species.

The proposals cleared the first hurdle when they were adopted unanimously by the conference’s committee of the whole. However, Pakistan, which is the other range country of the great Indian bustard, did not take part in the discussion on the proposals. The plenary of COP13 is expected to take a final call on the listing on Saturday.

What are the grounds on which India has proposed the listing?

Asian elephant: India said the Asian elephant, an endangered species, once used to range from west Asia to north of Yagtze river in China but currently, the range has shrunk to 13 Asian countries, and their population in India to 29,964 in 2017. India said elephants’ inclusion on Appendix-I would ensure better coordination among the range countries, facilitate migration, increase effective habitat area, and reduce killings.

Great Indian bustard: Its range stretching across India and Pakistan, it is a critically endangered species with a population of just around 150 individuals and its present habitat having shrunk to 10% of its historical range. India said there is prima facie evidence that the birds fly across the India-Pakistan border and hence the need for bilateral cooperation for recovery of the species.

Bengal florican: This too is a critically endangered species of bird that belongs to the bustard family. In its proposal, India said the present population of the South Asian subspecies has shrunk to around 1,000 individuals and its present habitat been restricted to the Terai and Dooars grassland regions of the Indo-Gangetic and Brahmaputra floodplains.


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