Reimagining the U.S.-India relations under Biden and Harris.
By Rajesh Mehta and Atul K. Thakur
Living in a post-truth era, one can easily see in Joe Biden – the quality of a democratic leader who is capable of breaking the barriers like class, ethnicities, faiths and tongues. If the Democratic Party returns back in helm under the leadership of Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris, the U.S. will have a consistency back where the development, diversity and freedom can coexist and let people believe again in the great “American Dreams.”
Harris not only has strong roots in India and Jamaica but also has been a powerful voice on issues like women’s rights, social justice and police reforms. She is also the first candidate of the Silicon Valley — the hub of entrepreneurship and innovation. Her extraordinary experience can help startups not only in Silicon Valley but around the U.S. to blossom and foster.
The future of U.S.-India relations looks bright under the leadership of Biden. His admiration for India and the Indian Americans has been deep. In 2013, as the Vice President of the United States, he visited India and delivered a remarkable talk at the Bombay Stock Exchange on “The U.S.-India Partnership”.
At this point, it would be worthwhile to recollect his words from that speech. “America is a land of immigrants, as we tell ourselves all the time and are reminded in every generation,” he said. “And America has been strengthened by the diverse cultures of India woven into the fabric of most of our communities. There’s no reason, if our countries make the right choices, that we can’t grow together and more rapidly. But the foundation of my hope and expectations is built upon the certain knowledge that our people share a common set of values and peaceful vision for the world.”
While speaking about Obama-Biden Administration, what he said during his India visit in 2013 is something that now appears like a prognosis of the time the U.S. can see again, “America is back, and it’s has never been a good bet to bet against America – never been a good bet to bet against America.” Undoubtedly, be it the aspirational Indian community with advance professional goals or businesses, the “America” always found a special place in Indians’ collective imaginations.
On the eve of New Year in 2015, President Barack Obama brilliantly reflected on the special bilateral ties of the U.S. and India: “The United States has the largest Indian diaspora in the world, including some three million proud Indian Americans. And they make America stronger, and they tie us together – bonds of family and friendship that allow us to share in each other’s success. For all these reasons, India and the United States are not just natural partners. I believe America can be India’s best partner. Of course, only Indians can decide India’s role in the world. But I’m here because I’m absolutely convinced that both our peoples will have more jobs and opportunity, and our nations will be more secure, and the world will be a safer and a more just place when our two democracies – the world’s largest democracy and the world’s oldest democracy – stand together. I believe that.”
The Obama-Biden administration made it a point to uphold the faith in the shared democratic values and legacy. In fact, Biden played a pivotal role, as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and as Vice President, in unwaveringly deepening the U.S.-India strategic and economic engagement, people-to-people ties and collaboration with India on the global challenges the world confronted back then. He reimagined the U.S.-India relations and worked in the best possible ways for taking the bilateral terms to an unprecedented height, people must recall how effectively he led the charge in Congress, worked with the Democrats and Republicans, to approve the U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Agreement in 2008.
India is closely watching the significant political developments that are signalling no next term for President Donald Trump, at cusp of an epoch-making change, its position as the world’s largest democracy gives it an extra edge to collaborate with the Democratic Party. The key voices on the U.S.-India bilateral relations and industry leaders are bullish and upbeat about the promising possibilities.
According to former U.S. Ambassador Vinai Kumar Thummalapally, “A Biden-Harris administration will undoubtedly further strengthen the India-U.S. relationship. Back in 2013, Biden expressed confidence that the annual bilateral trade between the two countries could be $500 billion, meaning 5X of the level of trade at the time. Now if he becomes the President, and with Kamala Devi Harris as his VP, I only see the India-U.S. relationship going one way — up!”
According to Arun M Kumar, Chairman & CEO of KPMG India, who had formerly served as Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Global Markets in the Obama administration, “As President, Joe Biden will take a very constructive, forward looking and win-win approach to U.S. India relationships. He has played a key role in landmark moments along the journey: he supported the nuclear breakthrough 15 years ago and subsequently laid down the marker of a $500 billion trade relationship. And he has stated that his Administration wants to be India’s best friend.”
Biden’s choice of Harris as his VP is remarkable for many reasons. If elected, she would be the first female VP of the United States. Also, she would be the first person of the South Asian lineage to serve such a high position in the U.S. government. It is quite natural that Harris is being considered a potential influencer to shape the Biden administration’s foreign-policy agenda where she will keep India, as an inseparable ally being the world’s largest democracy and one of the fastest growing economies with unique position in South Asia.
“Biden administration will strengthen U.S.-India relationships in all areas including defense partnerships, economic growth through growth in bilateral trade and investments, countering cross-border terrorism, renew Paris Agreement, support India’s bid for permanent membership of UN Security Council, remove counter based quota for green cards and streamline green card process to make it faster, increase H-1B visas as per industry needs. Biden will deepen collaboration between India and U.S. on strategic, defense, economic, regional and global challenges,” says Ajay Bhutoria, a member of the National Finance Committee of Biden’s presidential campaign.
According to Sanjeev Joshipura, National Director of volunteer group “Indians for Biden,” “A Biden-Harris administration would further the current upward trajectory of the U.S.-India relations. This is evident from the detailed and thoughtful agenda released by the campaign for the Indian American community. Anyone reading it will come away with the obvious conclusion that U.S.-India ties and the Indian diaspora are very important to Biden and Senator Harris. Otherwise, why have a mega campaign event on India’s Independence Day with video appearances by both principals and top campaign staff, if that was not the case?”
In all likelihood, a Biden-Harris administration would build on the successes of the Obama-Biden administration, surely undo the damages of the Trump administration and script a new chapter for the saner world. Shekar Narasimhan, Chairman of AAPI Victory Fund, makes a very valid observation on how India’s interests will be better served if the U.S. gets Biden as the new President, “Joe Biden will offer India a degree of stability and continuity that Donald Trump has not and cannot. The Trump administration has been erratic on trade and has punished India with tariffs. Friends should be treated better!”
Trump has negated the ideas of reforms and broadly overlooked the major global challenges, in the process, he has not differentiated between friends and adversaries. A glaring example can be Trump administration’s policies regarding immigrants. Next to campaigning on building a medieval wall on the U.S. southern border and banning a community, the Trump administration enacted a slew of policies hostile to immigrants from all parts of the world, including India. Moreover, the H-1B visas have been suspended, making 525,000 workers jittery, a majority of them from South Asia. Not surprising, if the U.S. got a “Lincoln Project” with a dream of having the sanctity back into the system.
More often than not, Biden appeared like an anti-thesis of “absurd authoritarianism.” His support for the Indian immigrants can’t be easily forgotten. In the post-Covid-19 world when the lives and livelihoods have been impacted in unprecedented manner – Trump’s ideas for “protectionism” were disastrous. Through his action, he made it sure that the people who worked tirelessly for the U.S., were suddenly left behind under policy jargons and flawed procedures.
China, which has mysteriously introduced “Covid-19” to the world is still having an existence with the U.S. sanction. It was expected that the United States will lead a front for “decoupling with China” — and come out of its manufacturing bastion. Sadly, while the Trump Administration has pursued a form of “de-globalization” at domestic turf – it didn’t make any change in trade terms with China. Despite the clamors, China is continuing to house the manufacturing needs of the U.S. giants like Apple and IBM. Ideally, India’s resolve for “self-reliance” should have been noticed by the Trump administration. Alas, save for a few investments (from Google and Facebook) in the IT sector, nothing has worked in India’s favor. No major American company has moved from China to India despite concessions being offered to them by India. The fault-lines should have no space in the relations of friendly countries like the U.S. and India.
There is need to look back, to go ahead. As the world’s oldest and largest democracies, the U.S. and India are natural allies with their shared democratic values and necessity of collaboration at global level. In the most positive spirit, both countries should dream and work together for a better tomorrow. The hope is high with the Biden and Harris, this is the straight message from India.
(Rajesh Mehta is a Leading International Consultant & Policy Professional. He is on Twitter @entryindia and Linkedin. Atul Thakur is Leading International Consultant & Policy Professional. He is on Twitter @atul_mdb and Linkedin.)