Trump and Modi met as Delhi burned, but the democratic principles underpinning ties haven’t vanished.

The India-U.S. Relationship Is Bigger Than Its Showboating Leaders

Following U.S. President Bill Clinton’s March 2000 trip to India, 20 years of bipartisan efforts leading up to Trump’s visit have aligned, with much difficulty, the world’s oldest and largest democracies. Successive administrations grasped that India’s remarkable historical arc served as a beacon for liberal values and its vast, young population as an important market. The countries quietly shared concerns over China’s ambitions and recognized that the world’s greatest challenges, like violent extremism, require India and the United States to work closely together. The leaders did muster significant defense sales announcements, tangible signs of energy collaboration, and nonbinding understandings on health and medical products. As China approaches world leadership in green technologies and India makes progress toward ambitious renewable energy targets, the Trump administration has by-and-large chosen to remain on the sidelines. After Trump was handed a giant political stage by India in an election year, it shouldn’t come as a shock that the president couldn’t find his voice as a wave of violence descended around him. Yet staying silent, after visiting the onetime home of Mahatma Gandhi, only provides cover for the erosion of civil rights and rule of law in India. Not a single diplomat from the State Department traveled to Delhi as part of Trump’s official delegation (due to a scheduling conflict with the annual Global Chiefs of Mission Conference). Fixing the fundamentals requires recognizing what largely brought India and the United States together in the first place: the sturdy bedrock of democratic principles, economic openness, and a more patient, long-term vision of their relationship. Prior to Trump’s visit, the experienced diplomat William J. Burns reminded everyone that “the relationship is bigger than these two leaders.” That certainly has been the case in the past and can ring true in the days ahead.

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