Any change in the US policy towards India is unlikely, save some prodding on the Western understanding of human rights issues in the region, something which New Delhi should be prepared to deal with. It’s in the US national interest to have good relations with India. It’s time India takes its rightful position in the world it deserves, and as Huntington puts it: the US well knows when to concede to maintain ‘good relations’ with friendly countries
What does the Joe Biden Administration’s occupation of the Oval Office mean for India? This is pertinent especially after Trump’s tight embrace of India. Though Trump-Modi friendship might not have translated into a trade pact — in all areas, particularly on the foreign policy and geo-strategic fronts in dealing with China or Pakistan, it supported India in becoming the alternative supply chain
supplanting China, strengthening military relations, while refraining to interfere in India’s internal matters.
Any change in the US policy towards India is unlikely, save some prodding on the Western understanding of human rights issues in the region, something which New Delhi should be prepared to deal with.
A little uncertainty exists on Biden’s approach towards Pakistan, while he is strong on anti-terrorism front, the need of Islamabad for peace negotiations with Taliban will bring in a working relationship between the two nations, though a re-appearance of bonhomie is unlikely.
On the trade front, Arun K Singh, former Indian Ambassador to the US, has summed up the position, “era of post 1990s globalisation effectively ended with Trump’s election in 2016”. On climate change, New Delhi will be asked to do more from the Biden Administration, an approach he has indicated towards other nations.
Besides, there is strong probability of Republicans holding the Senate should also not be lost on us.
India’s significance for the US
It is insignificant to think if the Democrats or the Republicans will be more supportive to the Indian cause. It’s the US national interest which made Presidents from Clinton to Trump to deepen ties with India. With 17.7 per cent of the world’s population, fifth largest economy, India is important for the US economy.
As the world’s largest liberal democracy — among the few in the non-Western world even rare so in Asia — a responsible player in global politics, largest troop contributor to the UN peacekeeping missions, a nation which is looked at with trust and respect in comity of nations, all the more so by the developing world, India today stands at a formidable position with which every global player wishes to partner.
So, in the Asian century when the focus of the world has shifted to the Indo-Pacific economically, politically as well as on the geo-strategic front, while the US power wanes and is increasingly challenged by the rising China in all possible domains: trade and economy, technology, intelligence, military modernisation and in international institutions, who does the US look to?
If a decade or two back India could not be ignored, today, the US can simply not do without India; and Washington DC is well aware of that. Nobody knows this better than the 46th President of the US, a seasoned diplomat. In 2006, he argued India-US relationship is the single most important relationship that the US has to get right for its own safety’s sake, declaring his dream of having India and the US as two closest nations in the world in 2020.
In 2008, he led the charge in the US Congress on approval of India-US Nuclear Agreement. As the Vice President in the Obama Administration, he further deepened ties with India.
In a policy paper during campaigning, Biden called India and the US as natural partners, while declaring the strengthening of India-US relationship as high priority for his administration; mentioning that no common global challenge can be resolved without India and the US.
It pledged support to India in fight against terrorism, cross-border or otherwise, confronting “new threats” India faces in its own region and along its own borders, not allowing China to threaten India with impunity, while supporting a larger role for India in international institutions, including pushing India to become a permanent member of the UNSC.
Chinese threat to the US
In the 2020 US report on China’s military, which outlines the fast-paced military modernisation and capacity enhancement of PLA as it moves towards its goal to become a “world class military” by 2049 — understood to mean equal or superior to the US military — it’s pointed out that the PLA is not intended to be “merely a showpiece of China’s modernity. The report pointed out that China is not only going to keep the PLA focused solely on regional threats” but to have “an active role in advancing” China’s foreign policy, particularly with respect to its “increasingly global interests and its aims to revise aspects of the international order”.
In the World Economic Output report 2020, the IMF declared China has overtaken the US to become the world’s largest economy in PPP terms. In China’s recently concluded fifth plenary session, it seemed assured about reaching
“high income level” in the next five years and doubling economic output by 2035, which is also the deadline for China to emerge as a global leader in innovation, becoming technological independent of the West by mobilising all of the nation’s resources to make breakthrough in key technologies from AI to quantum computing and semiconductor manufacturing.
To contain China is the top-most priority for the US, and the Biden Administration is going to achieve this by making a multilateral coalition of its allies and partners in Europe and Asia. And of them India is the most important peg in it. Indeed, the US ought to be thankful for the present situation brewing at the Indian border with the dragon, because a scenario where Indian interests with China converge can still be imagined, the same for the US is now impossible.
India might be China’s immediate irritant, its real adversary is the US. So, to worry about the US support on China is in vain.
Human rights, Kashmir and CAA
In his campaign, Biden had mentioned his disappointment with the Assam’s NRC, CAA and need for full liberties to be returned in Kashmir. The progressive faction has been all the more critical on the front,
Vice President Kamala Harris herself being vocal, so, questions will be raised.
In 1993, US political scientist late Samuel Huntington wrote that there is a widespread anti-western sentiment rising all over the world because of West’s universal enforcement of its values.
The East Asian nations had created a united front against this, with the Japanese Prime Minister of the time Hosokawa saying western human rights concepts can’t be “blindly applied to Asia”.
The West’s hypocrisy on the human rights front has also been time and again raised by the developing world. Why the US is not questioned over arrests of Muslims without charge after 9/11, Guantanamo Bay prisoners that are still rotting in prisons of the US allies in West Asia, most horrible abuses of human rights in Abu Ghraib prison, Iraq, or over the police brutalities on the blacks, or how the UK suppressed the Irish and Scottish national movements?
While India embraced the Western liberal democracy and human right regime, it continues to suffer the destabilising and violent after-effects and grave unresolved issues of the externally created borders and gory partition, unlike the peaceful territories of the West.
It is difficult, therefore, to enforce the same level of liberties to the region bearing the scourge of externally funded and supported terrorism for decades, which threatens the security of the whole nation, with even the temple of Indian democracy not been spared. A discouragement towards democratic process is still being made in
Kashmir by terrorists targeting political members. Similarly, a resolution of the post-partition refugee situation had to be undertaken.
India is a free and fair democracy with an independent judiciary, and it must confidently, firmly and calmly draw its red lines over non-interference in internal matters, something that rest of the Asia has been doing for long.
Our External Affairs Minister demonstrated it by not meeting a panel, including Congresswomen Pramila Jayapal. Were it done by even a middle level power, nobody would bat an eyelash. It’s time India takes its rightful position in the world, with respect, it deserves, and as Huntington puts it: the US well knows when to concede to maintain “good relations” with friendly countries.
(The author is a public policy analyst and lawyer)