Why US President’s India visit may not just be about Modi-Trump optics

US President Donald Trump’s visit to India on February 24-25 will be a brief and busy one. The personal will blend with the political in colourful ways, while serious business of State gets done on the side.

The trip will be heavy on optics — India can’t be otherwise — but also on substance. It will underscore what brings the two countries together — wide strategic interests, people-to-people ties and everything in between.

Officials are working hard on a modest trade deal and getting approval for 24 MH-60R Seahawk helicopters for the Indian Navy worth $2.6 billion before the visit. Although India has bought $17 billion worth of US defence equipment since 2007, Trump government officials complain that no deal has been signed during his term, despite offers to sell systems that no past president would.

This week, the US approved the sale of an Integrated Air Defence Weapon System (IADWS) to India estimated at $1.8 billion.

Trump’s the Word

That said, the visit will also provide a stage for Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi to bolster each other in different ways. Trump’s popularity is at its highest with a 49% approval rating, the Republicans are behind him, the Democrats are in disarray, and the impeachment is yesterday’s news.

To top it all, Trump is riding the longest economic expansion in US history. In short, he is in a good place. Now, if he can steer a significant number of Indian American votes his way by showcasing he has done more with India,

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