US Elections and Implications for India
| Vaishali Basu Sharma, Thought Leader, Delhi - 17 Nov 2020


Successive American administrations, have viewed India as a regional counterweight to China. There is some edginess in India about Biden’s imminent posture towards China. On other issues like Climate change, over which Barack Obama and Modi fused well may receive renewed attention. Over all regardless of the Blue party’s take over, India’s status in US policy circles is unlikely to see any drastic change. 

By Vaishali Basu Sharma

New Delhi, November 18, 2020:

The US elections are a phenomenon that is followed globally, and becomes an occasion to select favourite candidates or relate with their campaign ideologies. In India too, the American elections are closely followed and widely commented upon. With the formal results finally in, Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump to win the US presidency. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was among the first world leaders to congratulatethe Democratic leader on his “spectacular victory” also reaching out to Vice President Kamala Harris, reminding the VP of her Indian ancestry.

How will the election victory of Democratic candidate Joe Biden affect India? Because of the maturing of Indo-US bilateral relations based on national interests, it may be deemed that a change in Presidency would not affect America’s relations with India too profoundly.  Even so, there may be variances in how the new US President Joe Bien and his administration will transact with India.

Granting that President Donald Trump was quite popular among Indians, the appearance of Kamala Harris as the Democratic running mate for Joe Biden had caused a split among Indians as favorites potential administration.

During the four years of the Trump administration, India and US made significant progress in their strategic relationship, especially in addressing concerns regarding a belligerent China. Mike Pompeo’s recent visit included; the present American administration was relatively more open-handedthan some his predecessors in providing access to defence technology than any previous US government.

Warm personal relations between President Trump and PM Modi beyond doubt helped in resolving mutual trade concerns. Indian administration officials are confident that this upward trajectory in our bilateral relations will continue. External affairs minister S Jaishankar has stated,“I am very confident that we will pick up where we left off (with the Donald Trump administration), we have done that over the last four administrations.”

President Elect Joe Biden as a senator had backed the US-India nuclear deal in 2008. It is unlikely that the strategic relationship between the US & India would be affected even if the Biden team decides to take a more accommodative stance towards China.

Nimbleness of India’s courting US President Trump including gestures like invites to daughter Ivanka several times and matching ‘Howdy Modi’ rally with one grand rally to honour President Trump in Gujarat, have contributed towards strengthening personal bonds between the two leaders. Indian hospitality has, however, always been traditionally generous in hosting visiting world leaders. It may be recalled that former US President Obama had enjoyed an unusually affable relationship with PM Modi, prompting the media to dub it as ‘bromance.’  Even the people to people Indo-US relationship has remained consistently deep and friendly weathering many ‘ups and downs’ in its wake.

Taking the incumbent administration’s position on China as reference, it may be noted that Donald Trump’s position on China, verbally combatant, has failed to dent China’s economic clout.For US consumers, the dispute has largely meant that they have had to pay higher prices for Chinese products. President Trump had signed a preliminary trade deal with China that, if fully carried out, would increase American exports and prevent new tariffs, though it will not remove most duties already in place. China’s economy has been able to bounce back since the second quarter of 2020 providing the US with essential products like face masks the supply of which has increased more than 10-fold.President Trump’s tremendous popularity has taken a hit in the wake of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. The outbreak of COVID 19 and Trump’s ambivalent remarks made for a ludicrous approach towards one of the greatest pandemics the modern world has witnessed.

The significant difference between the democratic and Republican administrations would be their attitudes towards allegations of human rights abuses in Jammu & Kashmir of which India is accused. India’s performance on addressing communal issues will also come into focus under a Democratic Presidential regime. While the Republican presidency has largely disregarded Modi government's changes to Kashmir's constitutional status and its refugee policies, merely offering these domestic issues some lip-service. A democratic regime might feel obligated to take these allegations more seriously on international forums.

According to Dibyesh Anand, professor of international relations at London’s University of Westminster and author of Hindu Nationalism in India and the Politics of fear, “Unlike Trump, who had no interest in human rights anywhere, Biden-Harris team is likely to bring up questions of human rights, minority rights and crushing of freedoms in Kashmir and elsewhere.”

The Indian American community comprise slightly more than 1 percent of the total U.S. population—and less than 1 percent of all registered voters. Yet both parties tried to win over that vote bank. Because not only are Indian Americans the second-largest immigrant group in America today, their high levels of educational qualifications and incomes makes them valuable campaign contributors and potential mobilizers.

During the primary season, Indian Americans contributed $3 million to presidential campaigns. Joe Biden’s campaign issued a manifesto specifically aimed at Indian American voters. The Republican campaign, shared an online advertisement with images of Trump and Indian PM Narendra Modi sharing the stage at the Howdy Modi rally in Houston.

Historically the Indian community in the United States has been a strong supporter of the Democratic Party, but recent polls indicate that this time round the community exhibited signs of significant political polarization.

While there was enthusiasm among the community over the Joe Biden’s selection of Kamala Harris as his vice-presidential nominee, her position on Indian domestic policy and the suppressing of her Indian identity relative to her Black identity caused some concern among Indians.

The Democratic victory could witness the expansion of the so called “Samosa Caucus”, a termed coined by American Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, referring to lawmakers of Indian-American origin.

In the House of Representatives apart from Krishnamoorthi himself this samosa caucus comprises of Dr Ami Bera, Ro Khanna, Pramila Jayapal, and Senator and Democratic vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris. This is unlikely to influence the Democratic Party’s position on India positively.

She skipped the Howdy Modi event in Houston last September. So, despite much enthusiasm about Kamala Harris’s vice-presidential nomination, her posturing is likely to remain traditionally Democratic, without capitulating much benevolence for India.  

Successive American administrations, have viewed India as a regional counterweight to China. There is some edginess in India about Biden’s imminent posture towards China. On other issues like Climate change, over which Barack Obama and Modi fused well may receive renewed attention. Over all regardless of the Blue party’s take over, India’s status in US policy circles is unlikely to see any drastic change.  

Images courtesy - Joe Biden Kamala Harris FB Page of Kamala Harris

Vaishali Basu Sharma, Delhi

M.Phil from JNU, Delhi; Graduated from Lady Shri Ram College for Women, Delhi; Has worked as a consultant with the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) for several years; also worked as Consultant with Amb. Shyam Saran, Chairman of the ninth National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) from 2013 to 2015; Also worked with Shri Syed Asif Ibrahim, Special Envoy to PM on the Countering Violent Extremism (CVE); Presently associated with the think tank Policy Perspectives Foundation. Tweeter - @basu_vaishali Email - 


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