With Joe Biden ensconced in the White House as the 46th President of the United States, there will an impact on every area of global interaction. Undoubtedly, India too will not remain unaffected.
What will be the effect of the Biden Presidency on Indo-US relations? The relationship has been on an unprecedented upswing and will it now hit a bumpy patch? Will we now witness a negative trend in India’s relations with the US?
In this regard, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said Thursday in response to a question at the daily news briefing: “President Biden, who of course has visited India many times, respects and values the long, bipartisan, successful relationship between leaders in India and the United States. He looks forward to a continuation of that.”
Indo-US relations must be viewed from a historical perspective. President Jimmy Carter visited India in January 1978, after which no US President visited India for the next 22 years reflecting the fact that all was not well with the bilateral relationship. Then President Bill Clinton visited in March 2000, President George Bush in March 2006, President Barack Obama in November 2010 and again in January 2015, and finally President Donald Trump in February 2020.
This spurt in the US Presidential visits shows that during the last two decades, the Indo-US relationship has been on an upward trajectory whether the White House occupant is a Republican or a Democrat. The Indo-US relationship is now inextricably linked to the political as well as economic spheres, with both countries viewing each other as strategic partners.
Biden’s Secretary of State nominee Tony Blinken reaffirmed this when he told members of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee during his confirmation hearing on January 19: “India has been a bipartisan success story of our successive administrations”. During the virtual celebrations for India’s Independence Day organized last year by the Biden Campaign, Blinken had asserted that Biden has long been a champion of stronger ties with India: “If you go back 15 years, Joe Biden had a vision for the future of US-India relations. In 2006, he said, my dream is that in 2020, the two closest nations in the world will be India and the United States.” Blinken added, “Well, we’re not quite there, but it’s a terrific vision, and one that I know he will act to realize, as president of the United States.”
Similar views were expressed by retired Gen Lloyd Austin, who has been nominated by President Biden as his Defence Secretary. He told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing on January 19: “If confirmed, my overarching objective for our defense relationship with India would be to continue elevating the partnership.” In response to a question submitted before his confirmation hearing, Austin said, “I would further operationalise India’s ‘Major Defence Partner’ status and continue to build upon existing strong defense cooperation to ensure the US and Indian militaries can collaborate to address shared interests.”
During his campaign, Joe Biden had taken up positions on issues like CAA and Jammu and Kashmir, which showed a lack of sympathy for the Indian stand, but he did so in the context of electioneering. After becoming the US President, he is bound to be practical and show greater understanding because working closely with India has become an important aspect of the US foreign policy. It will not be in the US’ interests to undo the closeness in the present global scenario. The fact that the US sees India as a potential purchaser of weapons systems would make it even more necessary for Biden to seek a closer relationship with the Indian political establishment. Issues such as Jammu and Kashmir and human rights could come up in closed-door meetings, but it is unlikely that the Biden administration will raise them in public pronouncements.
True, there are some problems that still need to be overcome, such as those relating to bilateral trade and restrictions on H1B visas, which adversely impact Indian professionals and Indian software companies. Biden may not immediately reverse some of the Trump administration’s policies which led to these problems, but we should give Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s team some time for achieving their objectives.
In any case, we have better prospects now than we had with Donald Trump who had himself formulated these policies which were damaging our interests. Biden has shown that he takes a broader view on issues such as foreign trade as compared to Trump, known his infamous ‘America First’ policy.
Summing up, the promise of the Modi-Biden era is that Indo-US relations will continue to strengthen, as they have in the last couple of decades.