Hindutva, H-1B visas and Pakistan: How a Trump presidentship will impact India

It's a bit unclear what the new US president stands for but, either way, India won't be much affected.

“Donald Trump is elected president in stunning repudiation of the Establishment,” read the New York Times headline today. How stunning it was can be gauged from the fact that the newspaper had itself, just a few weeks ago, predicted the chance of a Trump win at only 8%.

Even as Americans grapple with this tectonic shift, what does it mean for India? The first thing to understand about Trump is that very few very few people know much about him. Throughout his campaign, Trump hasn’t really laid out policy or communicated plans. That includes US foreign policy with respect to India. Nonetheless, here are the probable effects a Trump win will have on the country.

Hindutva boost

The Hindutva love for Trump has been one of the most fascinating, if tangential, stories of this US presidential election. The New York Times even ran a story pointing out that “Hindu nationalists” are among Trump’s “biggest fans”.

A Trump win will, of course, have no direct effect on Hindu nationalism in India. But it will have a second order impact, helping legitimise the Hindutva ideology. Since the 1980s, Hindutva has steadily made inroads into India’s political centre, culminating in 2014, when the BJP won a majority in the Lok Sabha. The fact that religious nativism now find space at the high table of the world’s only superpower, displacing the liberalism that underpinned much of the Western world for the past seven decades, provides a powerful moral grounding for Hindutva in India.

Just two days ago, on Monday, the fringe Hindu Mahasabha prayed for Trump to win. That their prayers were answered is a good sign for Hindutva to try and push far-right, nativist Trump-style politics in India.

Stemming Indian immigration

NRI: the three magic letters that have formed the bedrock of every Karan Johar movie might also be rather badly affected by a Trump win. There is no greater bugbear for Trump than immigrants. His entire campaign was centered around White nativism, which demanded that non-White immigrants be expelled from the US.

While he has reserved his greatest bile for Mexicans, Trump has also attacked the workhorse of Indian immigration to the United States: the H-1B visa programme, which allows skilled foreign professionals to work in the country for a limited period. “I will end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor programme,” the real-estate-capitalist-turned-politician said. Trump also wants to put in checks and balances for companies using the H1-B via: they’ll first have to hire American workers before having a look at foreigners. This is terrible news for India’s software industry, which is crucially dependent on sending coders to the US.

Of course, the second-order effects of India's brain drain being slowed down, should Trump's immigration curbs be put in place, is yet to be seen or measured.

Attacking China will help Delhi

India and China share a large, undemarcated border. Just last week, Indian and Chinese troops were locked in a stand-off in the Ladakh region. And China has constantly aimed to surround India, building alliances with Pakistan, Sri Lanka and, most recently, Bangladesh.

In this situation, Trump’s unapologetic anti-China stance might end up helping India. One of the president-elect’s main campaign planks was opposing globalisation. And nothing represents globalisation like Chinese exports to the US. In 2015, the US imported goods worth nearly $500 billion from China and ran a trade deficit of $336 billion. Donald Trump has promised to reduce this deficit which would probably mean restricting imports from China ­– a development that India might take advantage off by trying to push her own exports.

Pakistan and terror

Apart from Mexicans, the one group Trump’s racist rhetoric has targeted sharply is Muslims, mixing up the attacks with threats against terror as well as Pakistan. While the racism is unfortunate, this might end up helping Indian government’s foreign policy objectives. More than any other US president before him, Trump seems to be on course to be firm on Pakistani terror. He also indicted that this action against Pakistan creates a role for India. “India is the check to Pakistan,” Trump said in September. “You have to get India involved ... They have their own nukes and have a very powerful army. They seem to be the real check ... I think we have to deal very closely with India to deal with it [Pakistan]”.

Michael Kugelman, a senior associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars in Washington, DC points out that “with Trump, the [US-Pakistan] relationship could face some very trying times”.

This was back in 2012

Corporate taxes

Apart from immigration, another body blow that Trump could deliver to India’s economy is that he plans to reduce corporate taxes in a move to entice industry back to the United States. The move is part of this anti-globalisation rhetoric. Right now the corporate tax rate stands at 35% in the US. Trump wants to reduce that by more than half to 15%. The reduction could offset the saving American corporations see in India due to low labour costs causing India to lose industry.

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