How Donald Trump’s statement can upend India’s Kashmir Policy

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Over the last three days, Parliament has been held up by the Opposition on the singular demand that Prime Minister Narendra Modi make a clarification on the outrageous comments made by US President Donald Trump regarding mediation in Kashmir.

It was not just a lie, but a lie that needed to be shut down quickly. After all, if it were true, it would upend 40 years of India’s Kashmir policy. No Prime Minister, least of all PM Modi, could afford to do so. The MEA statement within an hour of Trump’s comments clearly did that without actually calling Trump a liar. It was followed up by a categorical denial by the Foreign Minister the next day in both Houses of Parliament. That’s where the matter should rest.

Here’s why Prime Minister Modi making a statement reiterating what has already been said by the MEA spokesperson and by the Foreign Minister is fraught with risk. While the Opposition’s contention that it was not the Foreign Minister or Foreign Secretary’s name that Trump invoked, but that of the Prime Minister hence the onus is on Modi to clarify, sounds reasonable on the face of it, here’s why the Prime Minister should not walk into this trap by the Opposition.

When the Prime Minister speaks in Parliament, it is not only sacrosanct but is noticed in every diplomatic mission in every nook and cranny of the globe. It would be ridiculous for the Indian Prime Minister to call the US President a liar on the floor of the House, even if he doesn’t explicitly use those words. The ramifications of such a statement will be hard for India to contain.

Trump is a megalomaniac, whose ego is perhaps bigger than the size of continental America. If he hears the Prime Minister of a much smaller country, however important a partner or ally it may be, call him a liar, it is going to pierce through Trump’s gigantic ego. It will only force him to double down and be a thorn in India’s flesh vis-a-vis other contentious issues, particularly trade. India has already made its point via both the Foreign Minister and the MEA Spokesperson. Even the State Department and the White House has distanced itself from Trump’s comments perhaps realising the President’s folly in wading into an issue that’s a hot button for India.

It is clear that Kashmir was not raised. The readout of the meeting in Osaka put out by India and Ivanka Trump’s video put out by America both show that Kashmir was not raised. The notes of the interpreter-diplomat when both leaders sat next to each other over dinner also make no mention of Kashmir. All of these details are in the public domain. India has quietly made its point.

No need for the Prime Minister to add drumroll. By doing that, Modi would be stooping to Trump’s level. Not even the Opposition would want him to do that.

The question is why did Trump say what he did? What does he want? That’s what Indian diplomats need to find out, quietly and behind the scenes. The Prime Minister publicly rebuking the US President will only make this job for Indian diplomats that much harder. And once the PM says what he says, how long do you think it’ll take for BJP workers to start protesting outside the US Embassy? The last time such a thing happened was in 2013 around L’Affaire Devyani Khobragade. It took the India-US relationship years to recover from that damage. Let’s not turn the wheel back.

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