Donald Trump calls PM Modi as the US president struggles to get footing
WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump phoned Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday night (India time) in what is the first contact at the highest level after the former assumed office, the call ostensibly aimed at ensuring continuity, and possibly enhancement, of close ties between the two countries.
The Trump White House chose to call India— Trump’s fifth to world leaders — after the new President had conversations with leaders of Washington’s two immediate neighbours, Canada and Mexico, on Saturday, and with leaders of Israel and Egypt on Sunday.
The fact that Trump chose to call New Delhi ahead of Moscow, Beijing, Tokyo or any of the European capitals points to the non-controversial yet weighty nature of US ties with India, which have been based on a bipartisan consensus in both countries.
British Prime Minister Theresa May will be the first world leader to visit Washington to meet President Trump on Friday, attesting to the United States’ close ties with its mother country.
Modi was among the first leaders to phone Trump to congratulate him after his election victory, which some observers saw as replicating the Indian leader’s nationalist surge to power in New Delhi.
Even during his campaign, Trump identified India as one of the countries he would have a special relationship with when he chose a charity event organised by the Republican Hindu Coalition for the Kashmiri Pandit terror victims and the Bangladeshi Hindu victims in Edison on October 15 to signal what some saw as an India tilt.
“Under a Trump Administration, we are going to become even better friends, in fact I would take the term better out and we would be best friends,” Trump told a largely Hindu-American gathering in Edison, New Jersey, adding, “We are going to have a phenomenal future together,” and praising Modi as a very energetic leader he looked forward to working with.
Trump on Monday also named Indian-American Ajit Pai as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, attesting to the continued strides America’s best-educated ethnic group is making in the country.
A Virginia Republican who was born in Buffalo, New York, and grew up in Kansas, Pai has bipartisan support and was originally nominated to the FCC by Obama before Trump elevated him to its chairmanship.
Calling it a “deeply humbling honour,” Pai on taking office on Tuesday tweeted “From broadband to broadcast, I believe in a 21st-century version of Jefferson’s 2nd Inaugural: we are all Republicans, we are all Democrats.”
Pai is the third prominent Indian-American to make the cut in the new administration after Nikki Haley, who has been nominated US ambassador to the UN and who is expected to be confirmed this week, and Seema Verma, who has been appointed to lead Medicare and Medicaid. US Attorney Preet Bharara retains his post.
The India outreach came even as the fledgling Trump administration struggled to get a sound footing in Washington DC, its inexperience showing clearly as its spokespersons tangled with the mostly-liberal media.
On Monday, Presidential spokesman Sean Spicer was ridiculed after he told the White House Press briefing “Our intention is never to lie” but “sometimes we can disagree with the facts.”
The charitable explanation is he misspoke when he meant “disagree on the facts,” but such is the contentious and tetchy relationship that has developed between new administration and the press, mainly on account of Trump’s propensity to be economical with truth and loose with facts, that every day brings new wrangles.
Trump himself has continued to spout drivel in meetings even after taking office, telling one meeting with business leaders on Monday that he was a “very big person” on the environment who has “received awards” on the subject (a claim that was promptly shown as fiction), and in another meeting with Congressional leaders claiming that he would have won the popular vote (which he lost by three million) but for some three million to five million unauthorized immigrants who voted for Hillary Clinton.
Voting officials and watchdogs across the country have said there is simply no evidence to back Trump’s claim, and the liberal media has pointed out — much to the Trump camp’s discomfiture — that his electoral college win was built on a narrow margin of 80,000 votes in three toss-up states.
Trump aides have alleged that there is a concerned effort by the liberal elites to discredit Trump’s remarkable victory and delegitimize his administration right at the outset.