Unpredictable NaMo and Don factor

VIEWPOINT

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Madhusudhana Rao S

The people of India and the United States of America who share many common values between the two largest and vibrant democracies in the world have now found that their top government leaders too share a common trait. That is, their unpredictable nature. The American President-elect Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi have been described as alter egos of each other. It may be an uncharitable comment for Modi admirers. But last month’s demonetization of Rs 1000 and Rs 500 notes in his first major politico-economic battle since he assumed power more than two years ago has won him bouquets and brickbats. He has been receiving them nonchalantly, promising more measures to end corruption and black money and dangling the carrot of ‘achhe din’ in front of the people.

Modi’s announcement on November 8 night making the two high denomination notes invalid was sudden and had an element of surprise. Even today, he and his ministerial colleagues explain at length why it had to be done and declare what the opposition calls ‘financial emergency’ to save the country from a possible economic ruin.

After the initial euphoria died down and a shocked opposition recovered from the trillion-volt jolt, the firestorm surrounding the note ban started gathering dust and heat, mostly fuelled by the opposition parties spearheaded by Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and chief ministers of Bengal and Delhi Mamata Banerjee and Arvind Kejrival respectively. Modi had made little effort to douse the fire during the winter session of parliament, though it was the main reason for its washout. He allowed it to rage on, let his senior ministers handle the situation, which has threatened to go out of control at times. Nevertheless, Modi is very much in control, despite all the efforts made by his adversaries to roll back the demonetization move. He has been standing like a rock facing abuses and criticism without budging an inch. Is he proving himself that he is the leader and self-stating it whenever he opens his mouth is difficult to say. But the fact remains that surprise and unpredictability are Modi’s two weapons in his political arsenal to floor his opponents.

Across the oceans, similar streaks could be found in Donald Trump who will assume power in the most powerful country on January 20. It could be recent history, still fresh in the minds of millions of people in the US and across the world, that Trump had beaten all odds to become the 45th President of the United States of America. The animosity against him is so much that when the Time magazine featured him as Person of the Year 2016 a few weeks ago, its cover page headline proclaimed him as DONALD TRUMP – PRESIDENT OF THE DIVIDED STATES OF AMERICA.

His guffaws, sexist comments, anti-Muslim rant, racial slurs, cultural barbs and no-holds barred talk passed on as frank views before being elected are legendary. Post-election, although he has toned down controversial remarks, Trump’s run-up to taking office is increasingly becoming controversial and ringing alarm bells in world capitals.

Two major powers, Russia and China, both US adversaries, are keenly watching Trump’s every move and word to get a clue to what kind of foreign policy he will follow in the next four years. He has already dumped America’s established practices, foreign policy goals and geo-political strategies set out by his predecessors since World War II.

As recently as Monday, Trump called the United Nations “a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time” in a tweet sent from his Florida resort. His derisive remark against the august world body reflects his frustration with the UN, particularly the Security Council’s resolution against Israel for unabated expansion of Jewish settlements in occupied areas of Palestine. For the first time, Washington has deliberately snubbed Tel Aviv over its settlements policy.

Ironically, the decision was taken by the out-going President Barack Obama, who had tried to bring peace to volatile and oil-rich Middle East throughout his first term. Incidentally, Nobel Committee had rewarded his peace efforts with Peace Prize in 2009. Obama has to abandon his peace drive in his second term because of Israel’s intransigence. Last week, when Obama got an opportunity, which was his last, to vent his frustration with Israel, he showed it at the UN Security Council. Not that US disapproval would change Israel’s behaviour or its stand on occupied Palestinian areas; it’s a morale booster to Palestinians who have been fighting for such a US stand. As expected, Israel has expressed its shock and disappointment over US decision. But soon Israeli leaders have got solace from the President-elect who tweeted, “As to the UN, things will be different after Jan. 20th.”

Trump’s views on nuclear disarmament, dealing with Russia and China are as much disturbing as any other issue. For example, in a tweet last week, he said, “the United States must strengthen and expand its nuclear forces until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.” That was Trump’s reaction to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s reported observation during a meeting with the top military brass in Moscow that “nuclear forces need to be bolstered to penetrate any existing and prospective missile defence systems.” Obviously, The Russian strongman was referring to Pentagon’s futuristic missile shield.

It’s difficult to say what was on Trump’s mind when he raked up the issue of strengthening nuclear forces. Despite his aides’ damage control efforts, his flippant tweet has raised the prospect of another Cold War and nuclear arms race among nuclear powers. China’s unease with Trump even before he stepped into the White House is palpable. Though he has been trying for years to expand his business empire in the communist country, he has never masked his loathing.

Washington’s friction with Beijing under Trump’s dispensation is just showing up. China has already started feeling the heat when Trump accepted a phone call from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen who congratulated him on December 2 against all protocol norms; told China it could keep a US drone sub when it was detected in Chinese territorial waters; picked a hardcore critic of China, economist Peter Navarro, to be a key economic advisor, among other things.

What these developments and tweets portend for the world in general and the US in particular? None knows. Trump’s aides in the transition team do elaborate explaining whenever he courts controversy with his tweets saying ‘what he means … ‘ to justify what the President-elect  said. In other words, one has to read between his tweets to know his mind which reminds us of George W Bush Sr. who used to say ‘Read my Lips.’ With Donald Trump, will it be ‘Read my Tweets’ to understand him?

While the world waits for the New Year to know what’s in store in his tweets, in India, we wait what surprises Prime Minister Modi will spring in his war against black money and corruption.

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