It is unfortunate that US President Donald Trump has chosen to turn down India’s invitation to be the chief guest at the Republic Day parade on January 26, 2019. For the record, the reason cited is domestic commitments but it is all too clear that it is a rebuff to India for going ahead with the S-400 deal with Russia to purchase five units of advanced missile defence systems.
One sees no reason why India should accept dictation from the US on what it should buy, how much and when. Before Trump came on the scene, sanctions were imposed only under UN auspices and individual countries, including the US as the lone superpower had no natural right to enforce economic sanctions and to demand compliance.
Now, however, things have turned topsy-turvy. Trump’s US had a problem with Iran on the nuclear question and dictated to the world to stop buying and selling with the Iranians. As an extension of that principle, Trump has made it known that defence contracts with Russia are a big no-no and all countries are expected to comply.
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India has for decades had Russia and earlier the Soviet Union as defence suppliers and now we are told not to buy from the Russians because the US wills so. This is preposterous and high-handed.
The Chinese have recently ordered S-400s from Russia and India, vulnerable as it is to the Chinese and Pakistanis colluding to wage war on India can ill afford not to have a sophisticated missile defence system to guard against any nefarious designs.
The Americans are ascribing the declining of India’s invitation to the Republic Day function to the State of the Union message that American presidents read for all Americans on a day in the last week of January or the first week of February, but this is unconvincing.
The fact that Trump slept over the invite for weeks together was discourtesy at its worst. Hints about this were thrown by the White House spokesperson months ago but the US President’s office made no formal contact with India on it. However, extending courtesies and respecting protocol have never been Trump’s strong points.
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The US president has shown how rude and arrogant he can be with fellow heads of state or governments at bilateral and international forums, be it be with the Canadian prime minister or the German chancellor or to a lesser degree with some others. Yet, he seems to get away because he is the President of the United States.
Trump could also well have asked India for fresh dates if these dates were coming in the way of the State of the Union message. That he did not was a reflection that he wanted to hold out a rebuff to India for defying his diktat on Iran and then on Russia.
That the US is now virtually browbeating India to buy American F-16 or F-18 fighter aircraft in return for escaping American sanctions on the S-400 deal with Russia is also an ugly aspect of Trump’s jugglery that is condemnable. One wonders what the world in the time of Trump is coming to.
Is the US not bothered about the threat that India faces from China-Pakistan collusion and does it not think it expedient to prepare India for all eventualities? Do the Americans have a missile defence system that can measure up to S-400 standards? Evidently not, if the international defence suppliers market is to be believed.
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Another aspect of the American reaction to the S-400 deal and the apparent consequent rejection of Modi’s invitation to Trump is the reaction of India’s main opposition party, the Congress. One would have expected the Congress party to side with the Modi government in criticising Trump’s rebuff to India. Instead, there is not a word against the US but a lot of ire against the Modi government for having ‘embarrassed’ India by having to swallow the rebuff.
Congress foreign affairs spokesperson Anand Sharma cannot be faulted for having suggested that India should have sounded the US administration out before sending a formal invitation but the US rejection is an affront to India that deserved condemnation.