In the run up to the US presidential elections, the Indian foreign policy establishment, led by Prime Minister's Office (PMO), was also taken in by surveys and opinion polls and had expected Democrat Hillary Clinton to win. The Ministry of External Affairs and PMO was confident that it knew enough people in the future Clinton administration. There was a time when it even spurned overtures by NRI businessman Shalabh Kumar, who runs the Republican Hindu Coalition, to help it reach out to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
But Kumar remained steadfast in his support to Trump. He not only raised over $1 million from the Hindu NRI community for the Trump campaign, but also made Trump spout a copycat slogan from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's 2014 Lok Sabha campaign – ‘Abki Baar Trump Sarkar’. Several in the Overseas Friends of Bharatiya Janata Party (OFBJP), were also alert to the possibility of Trump winning the elections.
All these men and women, including Indian origin politicians among Republicans, helped Indian foreign policy establishment recover lost ground when Trump won. Today, Kumar's Twitter profile claims that he is the "originator of 'Abki Baar Trump Sarkar', that he is a "Trump advisor" and the "bridge between Trump and Modi".
At the Raisina Dialogue last week, Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar said New Delhi "established early contact with the Trump transition team and see a strong convergence of interests and concerns".
It is this convergence of interests that has led Trump to phone Modi. Although, him phoning the PM before a call to Russian President Vladimir Putin
cannot be overstated, and has more to do with domestic politics in the US.
The Indian establishment believes US-Russia
ties will improve during Trump’s presidency. At the Raisina Dialogue, Jaishankar said: "Relations between US and Russia
could undergo a transformation that we may not have seen since 1945. Its dimensions, leave alone implications, are hard to predict." He said India's relations with both, the US as well as Russia, have grown substantially and the "bonding" between Putin and Modi is good. The Foreign Secretary said that "an improvement in US-Russia
ties is therefore not against Indian interests".
The elephant in the room for the Trump administration as well as Modi government is the rise of China.
The Americans, particularly Trump, want to contain China.
India has its own differences with China, while several of Beijing’s neighbours, like Vietnam and Japan, are nervous about its increasing aggressiveness. In recent years, these countries have strengthened their strategic partnerships with India.
In their efforts to shape the emerging security architecture in the Asia Pacific, US-India-Japan have a trilateral, and another that comprises India-Australia-Japan.
There were enough indications during their conversation late Tuesday night that Trump and Modi have a convergence of views on the challenges. According to the White House press statement, "Trump emphasised that the US considers India a true friend and partner in addressing challenges around the world."
Trump called Modi before he had talked to leaders of important US allies like Britain, Germany and Japan or major powers like China
since formally taking office last Friday. During his campaign, Trump praised Modi as a "great leader". The two also spoke about economic relations. But it is unlikely that the two would find any convergence there. Trump has promised to promote his 'Make in America' programme and campaigned for 'Buy American, Hire American', which could not only lead to decreased imports but also job cuts for Indian Americans and reduced H1B visas.
That there are some key Indian origin Americans in Trump administration, and that the US President is likely to focus more on China, is of some solace to New Delhi.
Before Modi, Trump had spoken with neighbours, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Pena Nieto, with closest ally Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. The Eyptian President is important to Trump administration to help it deal with West Asia.