Lalit Mansingh, one of India’s finest diplomats, who has served as foreign secretary and as ambassador to the US, tells Ramananda Sengupta why he believes the Trump presidency might actually be good for India. There are two ways of looking at Donald Trump. One is to underline his personality a come to certain conclusions about his capability as a leader. The other is to go beyond his personality and check if he has any core interests which can serve as a guide to policymaking. The public perception is that he has a mercurial personality, is egocentric and bigoted.
That is all there. But I believe that his personality is not of concern to Indians. How the hell does it matter to India whether he is a liar or a womanizer? I have to look at how it affects my country. And I have come to two conclusions: Trump is not as erratic as he appears to be, because he has some core beliefs which he has not deviated from. There is a method behind his madness.
I have experience of another personality, George W Bush, who I came to know closely. He was also ridiculed by the western media as a mediocre intellectual who didn’t have the capacity to take large strategic decisions and stupidly started wars in Afghanistan, Iraq etc But I found that he had a core belief: he was convinced that the world was divided into black and white, good and evil... The other belief he had was if America has to change its foreign policy, it needed friends, and almost out of the blue, he chooses India as a partner. Of the all the American presidents, he has been one of the greatest for India.
Coming to Trump, he has been irrational, walked out of NAFTA, Rio, the Paris accord on Climate Change, alienated NATO, disturbed all of America’s close allies and made friends with the North Korean leader.
But we’ve had more than a year of Trump, and despite whatever he has done to other countries, India has not suffered, but is actually a beneficiary of Trump’s policies. One, we have two problem countries: Pakistan and China. Every American president has criticised both, but Trump has actually walked the talk. He has cut down almost $ 600 million of US aid and put Pakistan on notice... We should be grateful that an American president finally has the guts to take this stand. China has been growing so much that most countries are intimidated by it or overwhelmed by its financial largesse.
But China is not a team player, it does not believe in multipolarity, or established rules and regulations, and it is aggressively claiming territory from almost all of its neighbours, Including India. Which American president had the guts to take on China?... The big lesson everybody learns from China is that being nice or decent does not mean it will respect you. Only if you show firmness and the willingness to exercise power will the Chinese want to have a deal.
Trump has put pressure on China on a wide front, and not just on trade issues, but including security fields, which is what makes it interesting for us. So unless I see proof that Trump in his madness is actually going to harm Indian interests, and so far the evidence is otherwise, I would prefer to reserve my judgment.
(As told to Ramananda Sengupta)