The global fears over Trump’s presidency are beginning to come true. The maverick Republican seems to be a man in a hurry, issuing executive orders at a breathless pace focusing on immigration, terrorism and trade. As the world watched on nervously, he issued orders for building a 2,000-mile wall along the border with Mexico and is all set to block entry of refugees from war-torn Syria and suspend visas to immigrants from Muslim-majority Middle Eastern and African countries like Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Iran, Libya and Yemen until aggressive vetting is put in place. Though the ban order says it is meant to prevent infiltration of terrorists posing as refugees and to block entry of those who bear a hostile attitude towards America and its founding principles, it militates against the fundamental ethos and principles on which the country of immigrants was built. Such hawkish anti-immigrant policy will only exacerbate tensions with the Islamic world. There are already signs of aggressive protectionism gaining currency in the garb of ‘America First’ policy. Walking out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty and talking tough on trade relations with China are some of the pointers to the emerging isolationist regime.
As the global economic order is grappling with uncertainty, India needs to tread cautiously while deepening its ties with America. No doubt Trump is a slippery customer but bilateral ties are built on bipartisan consensus in both countries, which share common ideals of pluralism, openness and diversity. Trump, a political outsider who stormed into the White House riding high on the anger of the working class, could turn out to be an unpredictable disrupter making a radical departure from time-tested policies. However, it is a positive sign that he chose to call Prime Minister Narendra Modi just four days into his presidency and described India as “true friend” with whom he pledged to work closely in the global fight against terrorism. Trump’s tough-talking on both China and Pakistan could provide greater flexibility for India to fashion its geopolitical strategy in the region. In the days ahead, as the two countries settle down to redraw contours of bilateral engagement under the new dispensation, the row over H1-B visa programme is certain to dominate the agenda. It will be the first test for India’s persuasive skills to see that mutual business interests prevail over political rhetoric. There are genuine apprehensions among Indian IT companies and an estimated 300,000 Indians — working in the US on H1-B visa — over the impact of imminent restrictions. Typically, they account for over 86% of H1B visas issued for technology firms. These curbs could not have come at a more inappropriate time for the Indian IT sector, which is already smarting under the downward revision of revenue growth forecast.