THE big, fat American wedding dream of many an Indian groom or bride, mainly information technology professionals and those working for multinational corporations, has taken a hit from United States President Donald Trump and his immigration policy.
Matrimonial website Shaadi.com, much relied on by the Indian diaspora, reports a 25 percent slump since November, when Trump was elected the president.
The “Trump slump” accelerates the global trend, where the world becomes less global and more protective of “national interests”.
Add to this the threat to life. Three attacks — in a span of 10 days this month — are suspected to be racially motivated.
Among the victims was a Sikh man shot at and injured near Seattle while washing his car. With a beard and turban, Sikhs are often mistaken for Arabs and have faced attacks in the US since 9/11.
Equally heartrending was the killing of Srinivas Kuchibhotla, a techie working in Kansas. After public protests in Kansas, the State Department expressed concerns and Trump, too, made a reference.
Some Indian Americans are now forced to advise the community to speak only English in public places. This has never happened before.
“Everybody says he is visiting. But, we are sure we will meet next week, or next month” was how I was met three decades ago by Indians in the US, some of them American citizens, others green card holders or hopefuls.
The green card was much coveted then; it still is. There were half a million Indians in the US then. Today, there are more than three million, and the number would have grown but for the new restrictions.
Indians were preferred for a long time for the H-1B visa before the Trump administration imposed restrictions. Others may be worse off, but that is no consolation.
Indian migrants began going to the US as early as 1820. The surge came in the 1990s, making them the second largest immigrant group in the US after Mexicans, and ahead of those from China, the Philippines and Vietnam.
Over this long period, the naive ABCD — the American-born confused desi — has evolved. Several Indians got elected to constitutional posts and many more have been appointed to high office. The Obama administration had six Indian American ambassadors, including to India and Malaysia.
But for his abrasive distancing from the Indian community, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal could have run for vice-president as the Republican Party’s nominee last year. Fellow Republican Nikki Haley is the US’s permanent representative at the United Nations.
As nations, India and the US have come a long way, shedding mutual distrust and distance of the Cold War years. Indians had to be reminded of the US arms rush during the 1962 conflict with China, but no longer.
Relations survived the Nixon administration’s hostility in the 1970s, economic sanctions after nuclear tests by the Clinton administration and much else before signing the civil nuclear deal under Bush Jr.
American technology is now available to India. But without that help, India last month launched a record breaking 104 satellites from a single rocket, 96 of them from US companies.
The dichotomy in Indo-US relations cannot be missed.
Post-independence, in the Cold War era, the Indian government was wary of the US, being denied access to technology and several things that were, instead, gifted to its neighbours. But the people went to the nearest American mission seeking a visa to study and work, often aspiring to migrate. Going “phoren” (foreign) meant one was going to the US.
When Indian intelligentsia and the political class was opposing the American war in Vietnam, their government was receiving free food under the American Public Law PL 480 to feed the people, including those activists.
Some of this dichotomy ended, but took a long time. The surge of migration in the 1990s pushed further with the onset of technology, particularly the Internet, and of the BPOs (business process outsourcing) and startups, where Indians became not just workers, but leaders and even investors creating jobs.
Successive governments in the last 15 years have moved closer to the US as never before, buying weapons, exchanging intelligence, acquiring technology and dovetailing much of the trade and industry with what the Americans have or need.
But for the civil nuclear deal signed with the US, it is doubtful if India would have received nuclear fuel from the West and membership of the Missile Technology Control Regime.
Whatever its consideration, the US backs India’s quest for membership of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group and permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council.
That consideration, unstated by India, but known to the world, is for working closely together and some of the diplomatic and strategic moves.
India’s proactive posturing vis a vis China, be it on South China Sea or the recent visits of the US envoy to India and of the Dalai Lama to Arunachal Pradesh that Beijing disputes, are among the glaring indicators.
Doubts have emerged after Trump’s surprise election victory. Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar counsels: “Stop demonising Trump. Analyse him.”
But analysts are divided on proximity to the US in light of the growing Chinese presence in India. Should not India junk its opposition on “technical” grounds on the Chinese-led One Belt, One Road initiative and join it?
With or without Indo-US proximity, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor has given China its much sought access to the Indian Ocean.
China has elbowed its way into Afghanistan as India and the US look on helplessly.
The Chinese presence in Pakistan’s Gwadar port in New Delhi’s perception means that, notionally at least, any India-Pakistan conflict at sea could bring Chinese intervention to protect its ships and property.
Analysts ask whether India can and should seek to fight a war on two (China and Pakistan) fronts, as recently stated by India Army chief General Bipin Rawat.
The biggest foreign and security policy challenge that India confronts today is the deepening China-Pakistan relationship. That would need to be managed, not necessarily by playing the America card.
The writer, NST's New Delhi correspondent, is the president of the Commonwealth Journalists Association 2016-2018 and a Consultant with Power Politics monthly magazine