India-US Ties Won’t Change If Biden Wins: ‘Reality’ Of Diplomacy

It’s hard to read the tea leaves on US elections, but easier to read the tea leaves on India-US diplomatic ties.


Updated: 23 Sep 2020, 07:12 PM IST


A lot can change in a year.

This isn’t just a nebulous aphorism, in fact, quite literally, the difference between 22 September 2019 and 22 September 2020, remains that this time last year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, addressed a 50,000 strong Indian diaspora at the NRG stadium in Houston, Texas.

The event of course, was unprecedented on many levels, least of all, seeing a sitting US President, to use showbiz lexicon, ‘open’ for Prime Minister Modi, by not just gracing the occasion but especially playing second fiddle on home soil to a visiting dignitary.

Why ‘Howdy Modi’ & ‘Namaste Trump’ Events Faced Flak

Sycophants, cynics, geopolitical cognoscenti, critics and the opposition weighed in. One such criticism was that the ‘Howdy Modi’ event was too ingratiating between Prime Minister Modi and President Trump. This argument was further regurgitated when the Indian rendition of ‘Namaste Trump’ took place.

During his speech in Houston, PM Modi stated Ab Ki Baar, Trump Sarkar”, a credo that the PM had immortalised during his run in 2014, and one that Trump himself tried to poorly imitate during his run in 2016.

One such acerbic critique came from the opposition Congress party, as party flag-bearer, Rahul Gandhi, hit back stating that the prime minister had ‘brazenly endorsed a leader of a foreign country’ ahead of the 2020 elections, thereby eschewing a sense of non-partisanship and egregiously breaking the sacrosanct nature of diplomacy.

Many other fly-by-night analyses myopically drew a tenuous link, stating that since both Modi and Trump represent right-of-centre parties, ergo the reason for bonhomie, and thus a Democrat administration in 2020, would spell choppy waters for Indo-US relations.

India’s Growth Chart: From Dependence On Foreign Aid To Being Sought After In Global Trade

I find myself constantly negating such flippant analyses. As I have written previously, India and the United States have come a long way since the days of bellicosity of the Nixon-Kissinger era, where Richard Nixon, as previously evinced and now even recently confirmed, shared a strong disdain for India and vitriol for Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

But India was a different country then. It wasn’t seen as a burgeoning economic powerhouse in the making, but in fact, was seen as a Brobdingnagian landmass that was a nuisance to Nixon’s core interest with China and his affinity to Yahya Khan and Pakistan. Back then, India was seen as a Soviet confidante. Today, India is a strong strategic partner of the United States with synergy on defence, foreign policy, economic interests, a strong diaspora link further strengthened by shared democratic values.

In a nutshell, India has progressed from a state dependent on foreign aid, to one that is sought after in global trade.

As India opened up its economy to the world in the 1990s, abjuring a moribund à la Soviet economy, it subsequently abandoned a Cold War hangover, where it found that it needed to make a choice in a super-bloc contested arena of geopolitics.

India-US Political ‘Permutations-Combinations’

In the last three decades, since the Vajpayee-Clinton era, India and the United States have had every permutation-combination of Democrat, Republican, Congress and BJP leaders at the helm. It started with Clinton and Vajpayee (a Democrat and BJP PM), Bush and Vajpayee (Republican and BJP PM), Bush and Dr Manmohan Singh (a Republican and a Congress PM), Obama and Dr Singh (a Democrat and a Congress PM), Obama and Modi (Democrat and BJP PM), and now, Trump and Modi (Republican and BJP PM).

These individuals are as alike as chalk and cheese, both from the perspective of personality and political leanings.

From the reticence of Dr Manmohan Singh dealing with a loquacious Republican Texan in Bush, to a charismatic Obama who later dealt with PM Modi — the latter presents himself with a sense of aplomb and now deals with President Trump who is, quite simply, a ‘showman’.

Yes, concerns have been raised about how Democrats have expressed censure on Kashmir, a sensitive topic and one that India absolutely does not tolerate any external intervention on. While the Democrats may be seen more as the purveyor of discourse on human rights, subsequent Republican administrations, including one as unique and seemingly hard-nosed as this administration, has rebuked China for severe violations against its Uighur population in the Xinjiang province of the country.

Why It’s Easy To Read Tea Leaves On India-US Bipartisan Relations

Similarly, as I write here, that despite Trump’s bellicosity and myopia on immigration policy and hard-nose stance on H-1B visas, the outlook for white-collar Indian immigration to the United States won’t seemingly get better under a Biden administration.

While ‘Howdy Modi’ and ‘Namaste Trump’ epitomise grandiose ceremonies and overt public diplomacy, actual policy remains firmly ensconced within the diplomatic core at the State Department at Foggy Bottom and at the Ministry of External Affairs, South Block Raisina Hill.

Apropos of ‘chaiwala’, as Modi has been referred to derogatorily in the past, it’s hard to read the tea leaves on the elections, but easier to read the tea leaves on bipartisan relations.

(Akshobh Giridharadas is based out of Washington D.C., and writes on diverse topics such as geopolitics, business, tech and sports. He is a two time TEDx and Toastmasters public speaker and a graduate from the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy. He tweets @Akshobh. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

A journalist by profession. He writes about business & finance, geopolitics, sports & tech news. He is a TEDx & Toastmasters speaker. Follow him @Akshobh

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