Biden-Harris era in US: A Big Challenge for Prime Minister Modi
| Hari Jaisingh, Former Editor, The Tribune, Chandigarh - 05 Dec 2020

Hari Jaisingh is one of India’s veteran journalists and Editor having distinguished journalistic career spread over a period of 45 years. He has worked in senior positions with leading Indian newspapers, including The Tribune, The Indian Express, National Herald and the Business & Political Observer. A graduate from St. Xavier’s College, Calcutta and a Master’s degree from Jadavpur University, Calcutta, Jaisingh is a keen observer of Indian and global developments. He was also a contributor to the Morning Telegraph, Sheffield and The Guardian, London. He has sent his Column for Indian Observer Post on our special request. – Onkareshwar Pandey

Musings from my Desk

Hari Jaisingh

India will have to work out a new understanding with Biden-Harris administration

December 1, 2020

Dear Readers,

The United States is set for a new era under President-elect Joe Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris starting January 2021. This is a milestone development for the world’s oldest democracy, which has been grappling with a worrisome state of economic, social and political affairs. The new political order is expected to reverse President Trump’s divisive agenda that marked his four years of presidency. The Indian leadership will have to work out a new understanding with the Biden-Harris administration, bearing in mind that the conduct of foreign policy is not a matter of emotions. Herein lies the big challenge for Prime Minister Modi, who had developed personal equations with President Trump.

Back home, Nitish Kumar has once again been appointed Bihar’s Chief Minister, although the key to power lies with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.The performance of RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav has been quite remarkable, while the Congress has put up a rather poor show at the hustings. What we see in Bihar today is the changing social trend in the power play to woo the backward classes.

With regard to the never-ending Kashmir problem, it is the same old story. Pakistan continues to be active with its proxy war, while the main focus of the J&K administration is the District Development Council elections and strengthening of grassroots democracy in the region.Kashmir is in need of a new socio-political agenda to speed up the process of development with a view to creating new job opportunities for the youth.What it needs is a new thinking and a bold and creative approach to addressing people’s problems.

Thank you.


Hari Jaisingh


The Biden-Harris era

Working out new equations in Indo-US ties

With the spectacular success of Democrat Joseph Robinette Biden and his running mate, Kamala Devi Harris, for the 2020 White House race, a new history is being written in the world’s oldest democracy. Joe Biden will be the 46thPresident of the United States. He hasdefeated his Republican rival decisively, thereby making Donald Trump the first US President to lose re-election in more than 25 years.

I look at this keenly contested event in a Trump-ruled divided polity as a big boost to America’s democratic forces. For the 77-year-old elected President, this was a fight for the very “soul of America”, in a country fractured by strained race relations,the coronavirus pandemic[1], a worrisome economy and unemployment.

Biden has the reputation of being a traditional and experienced leader. He sees politics more in terms of building relationships rather than as an exercise in ideological rhetoric. In fact, he has devoted his political life to building democratic institutions and establishing viable relations with dependable countries.

With her ascension to the Vice-Presidency, Kamala Harris becomes not only the first woman, but also the first black woman to hold that office. This is a milestone development for a nation struggling with a damaging history of racial injustice. From all accounts, hers has been a momentous career of struggle against racial injustice and human rights matters. She has pursued her crusading role as a prosecutor on domestic violence and child exploitation cases.It would be worth recalling how thousands of miles away in her ancestral village of Thulasenthirapuram in Tamil Nadu’s Thiruvarur district, the villagers celebrated her victory. They performed special pujas at the temple to thank the deity for her success. The villagers’ excitement and happiness signify special bonds Kamala has with the people of Tamil Nadu, nay, of India

Both Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris are well aware of the tough tasks ahead of them.The major challenge facing the new regime is to find ways and means to reverse Trump’s legacy of mis-governance in critical areas such as racial injustice, healthcare, economy and labor market, and matters related to climate change.

Biden has made it known that his first priority will be to bring coronavirus under control. His other priority areasinclude generating higher investment for strengthening infrastructure so as to boost economic growth.

The Biden-Harris era is expected to reverse the outgoing President’s divisive agenda that marked four years of his politics. This would mean a lot for India, as well as for Indian Americans. It can be safely said that the new regime will provide a new roadmap to nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants, including over 5,00,000 from India. Biden also intends to increase the number of high-skilled visas, including H-1B, and liftthe limit on employment and reverse Trump’s plan on work permits for spouses of H-1B visa holders, which had adversely affected a large number of Indian families residing in the United States.

The policy document issued from the Biden side clearly states that his administration would support family-based immigration and preserve family unification as a core principle of the US immigration system. Nothing can be more cheering for Indians than this new policy of the Biden administration.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has enjoyed personal equations with President Donald Trump. We saw the special warmth between the two leaders at the “Howdy Modi” rally in Houston. Later we witnessed a terrific “Namaste Trump” show at Ahmedabad. However, the special friendship between the two leaders did not yield much material change in India’s trade relations with America. In sharp contrast, Biden’s pragmatic approach to trade and other areas of economic development could prove to be more beneficial for India. Biden is also expected to normalize ties with Iran which, in turn, might help India to purchase low-cost crude oil from Teheran and Middle East countries.

What is gratifying is that PM Modi has already set a positive tone for further strengthening India’s relationship with the Biden regime. However, a lot will depend on Biden’s approach towards China. It is no secret that Trump pursued tough policies towards China, somewhat to the advantage of India. It remains to be seen whether Biden will adopt a more conciliatory approach towards China.Equally critical for India will be the new administration’s attitudetowards Kashmir and human rights issues.

The Biden-Harris campaign had maintained that India should restore human and political rights in Kashmir. When asked about the issue, Ms. Harris reportedly stated, “We are all watching”. New Delhihas no choice but to keep its fingers crossed and hope for the best. South Block has also to keep in mind that the conduct of foreign policy is not a matter of emotions. It has to be guided by national interests, in tune with hard global realities. Herein lies a big challenge for India’s policymakers during the Biden-Harris regime. They need to closely monitor and analyse the conduct of new forces shaping American policies on critical issues.

(November 13, 2020)

The Bihar Verdict

Power play to woo Bihar’s backward classes

Prior to the 2020 election, Bihar politics used to be driven by JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar. He possessed all the qualities of a crafty politician to keep his chief ministerial gaddi going with the backup of a pragmatic BJP. The saffron party knows the political art of going silent and going deep in the state’s turbulent goings-on.

The patience of the saffron partyhas now paid it political dividends. It has emerged as a formidable force in the state. It has honored its word to make Nitish Kumar the Chief Minister for the fourth term despite winning 74 seats with a vote share of 19.46 percent vis-à-vis JD(U)’s 43. The NDA’s two other alliance partners, HAM(S)[2] and VIP got four seats each. Strategically, the BJP leadership prefers to look beyond Nitish Kumar’s umbrella as a sole power force in its own right. We, of course, cannot be sure of the nature of Bihar’s politics tomorrow.

The performance of Tejashwi Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) of the Mahagathbandhan has been quite impressive. It has got 75 seats and an overall vote share of 23.11 percent. Interestingly, the RJD’s vote share remained around 18 percent over the successive elections since 2005 despite occasional rise in the number of seats.

The RJD has had the reputation of being the party of Yadavs and Muslims (YM) who roughly form a third of the state’s population. This is mainly because it has managed to get the majority ofMuslim-Yadav votes. Interestingly, the RJD’s support base seems to be changing. It is assumed that the RJD has gained certain sections of the Extremely Backward Classes (EBCs) and Mahadalit[3] voters at the cost of Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) support base, which hasshrunk this time. It would be too premature to come to definite conclusions. However, what is certain is that a changing social trend which, if it continues, would reveal new socio-political dynamics in Bihar, especially in light of Tejashwi Yadav’s emphasis on economic uplift with social justice.

Against this setting, we cannot overlook Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s multidimensional umbrella under which it is trying to rope in wider sections of Bihar’s population beyond its traditional image as a party of upper caste baniyas. It appears that Bihar is undergoing a slow but silent phase of political transition.

The BJP’s success in Bihar has been quite credible. Still, this is not its best performance in alliance with the JD(U). It had won 91 Assembly seats in 2010. We, however, must not forget the COVID-19 factor and its fallout on the attitudes of the state’s migrant workers. In terms of power politics, the BJP leadership has succeeded in having a government of its choice in Patna. With its two own Deputy Chief Ministers – Tarkishore Prasad and Renu Devi – Nitish Kumar is but only a symbolic Chief Minister, thanks to PM Modi.

For years, PM Modi has had a preferencefor Nitish Kumar. Even otherwise, the BJP’s national leadership realizes the necessity for social and political coalition with JD(U) to do well in Bihar. It cannot afford to overlook Nitish Kumar’s vote strength among EBCs,Mahadalits, and women, who outnumbered male voters in every phase of the three-phase election in the state.

It should also be interesting to note how the BJP is trying to widen its social base for future polls with or without Nitish Kumar’s help. Keeping this in mind, the BJP roped in two Deputy CMs –Tarkishore Prasad who belongs to the OBC Kalwar community and Renu Devi who is from the EBC Nonia community.

The BJP leadership seems to have sidelined Sushil Modi from the state scene since he is seen as a “towering banyan tree”, which puts others in the shade. The BJP’s idea is to allow its new leadership to grow in the post-Nitish Kumar politics in the state.

The 2020 Bihar election, in fact, is being seen as a takeoff point for the BJP in Bihar. Thus, the BJP is making a decisive break from the old pattern of relationship with JD(U)’s Nitish Kumar. This is understandable in view of the declining fortune of the ever-willing Chief Minister of Bihar. The JD(U) base has shrunk to 43 seats in the House of 243. This makes it a lesser partner in the NDA’s power play. In fact, there has been considerable anger against the Nitish Kumar government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic crisis and the returning of migrant workers, walking long distances home with their families.

In addition, the government’s failure on jobs creation, public health services, and overall poor development efforts,have denied the citizens new economic opportunities to augment their living conditions. Equally worthy of notice has been thecriticisms about the quality of education, excessive bureaucratization and rising corruption at all levels of governance, especially at the lower level, which haveaffected the common people. The failure of the Nitish Kumar government was also obvious on its prohibition policy front, which ensured “home” delivery” of good stuff for the rich, and spurious liquors for the poor. In view of these harsh facts, it would be hard for Nitish Kumar to redeem his battered image.

Amidst working equations of the NDA-JD(U) alliance, the performance of RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav is especially noteworthy. The RJD has emerged as the largest single party in the 2020 verdict. As for the vote percentage in this election, the party has polled 23.11 percent votes, an increase of around five percentage points, highlighting its enlarged social base. That is to say,a section of the EBC and Mahadalit voters have shifted to the RJD. What is regrettable here is the poor show of the Congress. Had Sonia-Rahul Gandhi’s party performed better as part of the Mahagatbandhan, Bihar’s electoral story would have been different. It is time the Congress leadership did some introspection to revamp its organizational set-up. It cannot conduct itself as a party “on picnic”. India’s electoral battles have never been casual shows.

(November 20, 2020)


Whither Kashmir?

Kashmir needs a bold and creative policy response to problems

Whither Kashmir? We cannot be sure as it is badly caught in a tangle of its own making with Pakistan-sponsored terrorism as active as ever. Small wonder, four Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists could manage to enter J&K through a cross-border tunnel in the regal areas of Jammu’s Samba district on November 18. Mercifully, they were gunned down well in time in Nagrota by the Border Security Force and the police during a three-hour encounter.

It is said that the tunnel might have been used earlier too, thereby lendinga wider dimension to the spectre of militancy J&K has been faced with for decades. New Delhi has, of course, adopted a tough posture against Islamabad’s “continued terror attacks” and warned Pakistan of serious consequences. Its main area of focus right now is to ensure peaceful elections for the District Development Council (DDC) to be held between November 28 and December 19.

The first ever DDC poll has evoked tremendous interest against the backdrop of the land scam involving key Kashmiri leaders. An advocate, a businessman, an ex-journalist and a career politician are among the candidates fighting the DDC election. On one side is a seven-party alliance of the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), headed by Farooq Abdullah. It also includes Mehbooba Mufti. PAGD’s grudge is that in the name of security, it is not allowed to campaign freely.

Former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah has accused the administration of “interfering” in the democratic process. In fact, the National Conference (NC) as well as the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) accused the BJP of misusing the official machinery in J&K against the joint candidates fielded by the PAGD for the DDC polls. They have said that non-BJP candidates are not allowed to campaign and are being locked up on the pretext of security. The J&K administration needs to look into these allegations critically if it is serious about strengthening grassroots democracy in Kashmir.

The Home Ministry has claimed that the process of democratic decentralization has unnerved terrorists and Pakistani agencies in view of enthusiastic support from the public. This is why the DDC poll process should be fair and transparent. I hope the Central authorities would keep this in mind,for, there can be noshortcut to the strengthening of grassroots democracy in J&K.

Today, Kashmir has become a political laboratory, without any rational and logical thinking apparatus for New Delhi to conduct one experiment after another without any clear results. A number of initiatives have been taken during the past several years to woo separatists and militant leaders with a view to winning the hearts of those who have been following hard lines of thinking, and violent actions, whether out of convenience or conviction.

Several opportunities have been lost over the years mainly because mainstream leaders have lacked vision, as well as the political will to pursue national goals by making the country economically, socially, and politically strong.

What is required is to create a climate of optimism in Kashmir among ordinary citizens. The gun, after all, is incapable of solving any problems, especially in a democratic polity such as ours. The country’s leadership should put its affairs in order and handle the Kashmir problems in a well-planned and integrated manner and think of possible solutions for addressing the problem in a short- and long-term manner. I have the following specific suggestions:

One, the first priority must be to put the Kashmir house in order by giving the people the advantage of a clean and transparent administration. It is indeed sorrowful that the BJP-led NDA regime has failed miserably on this count. It is a different matter that the BJP leaders live in their own world of make-believe, which does not reflect the Union Territory’s ground realities.

Two, Jammu & Kashmir has to be given back the status of statehood. In this context, the Centre would do well to re-examine its recent provisions of the land laws and allay the doubts, if any, of ordinary people.

Three, a time-bound development-oriented strategy and plan of action should aim at the generation of more jobs for the youth. It ought to be kept in mind that the problem of unemployment is the biggest curse, which provides ready material for militancy.

Four, we must ensure a total control on the flow of foreign funds for dubious purposes and terrorist activities.

Five, a tough action plan is needed to tackle Pak-sponsored terrorist groups and their patrons across the border.

Six, we need to find ways and means to eliminate the terrorists’ training camps across the border.

Seven, the process of dialogue with all political groups ought to be an on-going exercise. The Centre must not be selective and solely BJP- centric in this regard.

Eight, a corruption-free politico-administrative system is required for rebuilding the Kashmiri society on time-tested lines of Sufism and secular credentials.In this context, it is disturbing to know about the land grab by high-profile leaders like Farooq and Omar Abdullah. The High Court deserves compliments for its order of October 9, asking the administration to recover all land given away under the Roshni Act that has been declared illegal. Good show!

Nine, healing touch apart, all-round efforts are urgently needed for the return of the Kashmiri Pandits to the Valley and other parts of the Union Territory. They form part of the basic fabric of Kashmir’s secular polity and its liberal and secular traditions. The main goal for the present administration has to be one of making J&K a live paradise of the Republic of India.

Is the Modi regime ready to play proactive policy on the ground? I keep my fingers crossed since it is difficult to fathom the mind of the Prime Minister. Narendra Modi needs to realize the policy of adhocism cannot yield meaningful results.

It also needs to be borne in mind that every Indian problem is multidimensional and, therefore, cannot be fitted into a single, pre-determined BJP-centric frame. What the country needs are honest and right answers to its problems and a commitment to carry along every citizen, irrespective of his or her religion, caste, community, language or ethnic background. In fact, in today’s complex socio-politico scenario, policymakers have no choice but to evolve a more creative approach to Centre-State relations, Kashmir included.

(November 27, 2020)


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