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Special: Biden or Trump? India does a balancing act

Simran Sodhi
Filed on November 1, 2020 | Last updated on November 1, 2020 at 01.00 pm

Current president is a comfortable choice, but New Delhi could warm up to Biden.

The whole world, it seems, is holding its breath and watching the race for the White House. As sitting President and the Republican candidate Donald Trump clashes with the Democratic party nominee Joe Biden, many countries are doing their own internal algebra. For India, the stakes are high as Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not only put India-US ties on a high priority, he has also never shied away from showering lavish praises on his friend, Trump. The bonhomie has worked, despite the glitches, and the India-US relationship today is the defining partnership in India’s foreign policy. India has invested heavily in this relationship and the recently concluded 2+2 India US Ministerial dialogue in New Delhi is proof of that.

For India, Trump has worked and despite his statements to help mediate in Kashmir, his administration has more or less not bothered too much with India’s domestic issues. So from Kashmir to religious freedom and rights of minorities, Trump more or less has well, not been too concerned. His focus has been his own country and there have been no preaching statements from his administration on domestic matters for India. And that is a big relief for the government here. Joe Biden, on the contrary, is unlikely to be so inward looking and indications are that he would like to halt this retreat of America from global politics and might be tempted to then assume the role of a global cop again. A Biden administration is likely to want to discuss and raise Kashmir and human rights issues more.

Trump, again has made no secret of the fact that he is no fan of immigration. His moves to limit the H1 visa, which is used by hundreds of Indians to seek employment in the US, has been criticised by many. If re-elected, Trump is likely to move to restrict the work visa for immigrants even more. Biden, on the other hand, is a traditional Democrat and will likely try and make America more open to immigrants. It’s an issue which affects many Indians at a very basic level and for India, Biden would be a better bet in this matter.

Another matter in which a second Trump administration will likely differ from Biden would be in its dealing with international actors from the United Nations to NATO. Trump, in his characteristic manner, has been harsh on most international actors and has had no qualms in walking out of international agreements like the Paris Climate Agreement. While these don’t affect India in a major way, what does and will impact New Delhi is the way the US decides to act in its extended neighbourhood and that takes us to Afghanistan. The ongoing peace talks between the US and the Taliban have made India uncomfortable, because for the longest time India made it a policy of not engaging with the Taleban. Also, the Trump administration has made it clear that its priority is to get American soldiers back home. But that leaves India in a bit of a tight spot. Biden, on the other hand, might go a little slow on the withdrawal from Afghanistan and that would give India some breathing space. A Biden Presidency is also likely to see a fresh impetus for a role in international organisations.

As India makes its calculations on who would be the next President of the US, one thing is crystal clear. India has invested very heavily in this relationship, especially when it comes to the defence and security framework. So whoever might be the winner, India is going to quickly walk the distance and emphasise its partnership. China here is also the big factor. Despite the tensions in the India-China relationship, India has refrained from any aggressive public posturing. However, an opposite public posturing is being done by Trump and the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who let no opportunity go without hitting out at China and its policies. Indications are that Biden would probably not be this blunt in his handling of China and might approach it in a more subtle manner.

At the end of the day, India is likely to borrow wisdom from the Realist approach in International Relations and embrace the new White House resident with equal warmth. India has too much riding on this partnership and it would not be incorrect to state that for India, this has become the defining relationship of its foreign policy today. So if Trumps wins, he will be welcomed with a reminder of the old bonhomie shared between friends, Biden is likely to be given an equal warm hug of new beginnings. Though somehow the comfort with Trump at this point in history might be more pleasant to a ‘New India’.

- Simran Sodhi is a senior journalist and analyst based in New Delhi





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