With Trump behind in polls, India appears to be preparing Plan B

President Donald Trump holds hands with Prime Minister Narendra Modi as they take a surprise walk together around the NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead
President Donald Trump holds hands with Prime Minister Narendra Modi as they take a surprise walk together around the NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead

Indian envoy Taranjit Singh Sandhu is in Delhi for “consultations.”

More than a year ago, when the US economy was sailing smoothly and President Donald Trump’s reelection chances looked bright, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited the incumbent for a much ballyhooed public event in Houston.

The Republican president’s presence at “Howdy Modi” irked Democrats so much that most of the party’s congressional leaders stayed away from the event.

Addressing 50,000 cheering supporters, Modi would declare: “Friends, we in India have connected well with President Trump.  The words — the words of candidate Trump, ‘Abki baar Trump sarkar’ (This time Trump government) rang loud and clear.”

Democrats cried foul and accused New Delhi of picking sides in the US election, still more than 13 months away.

Ignoring the opposition party’s objections, the Indian government would host another campaign-style event five months later, in Ahmadabad, during Trump’s visit to India in February.

Then came a planetary pandemic. Covid-19, which has so far claimed more than 200,000 American lives and ruined the US economy, has upended the race.

READ MORE: Road to the White House

Now, with early voting already in progress in a number of states, Trump is trailing behind the Democratic Party nominee Joe Biden. There is a real chance that Biden might defeat Trump.

It appears that it has dawned on the Indian government that it would need to mend fences, judging from the current Delhi visit of Taranjit Sandhu, India’s ambassador to the US, for “consultations.”

Sandhu, who took over as India’s chief diplomat in the US capital earlier this year, arrived in Delhi over the weekend and would remain in the city until, at least, the end of the week, according to a highly placed source.

He has already met or is scheduled to meet with a number of high ranking officials, including External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and possibly Modi himself.

The topic of discussions, the American Bazaar has learned, is the likely victory of the Democratic nominee and the possibility of dealing with a potential Biden White House.

If Trump loses, it will not be just a Democratic White House that New Delhi has to deal with, but a Democratic Congress as well. The party is almost certain to keep the House of Representatives and is also slightly favored to flip the Senate.

India’s relations with many influential House members, including Indian American Pramila Jayapal, too are frayed.

Last December, Jaishankar, who was in Washington for the “2+2 Dialogue,” canceled a scheduled meeting that was requested with House Foreign Affairs Committee members after learning that the India-born congresswoman was among the attendees.

The Democrat from Washington State had criticized India’s actions in Jammu and Kashmir after it was stripped of statehood in August 2019 and also the enactment of the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

Jayapal was not the only Democrat to denounce rights violations in the Kashmir valley and CAA. Many of her progressive colleagues had similarly voiced concerns on the two issues. The Trump administration, on the other hand, tacitly backed New Delhi.

Bipartisan support

The saving grace is that better India-US relations has been a bipartisan concern in the US since the Bill Clinton era.

Democrats may be miffed with Modi, but they are going all out to woo Indian American voters, who have emerged as a key constituency, particularly in battleground states.

Historically Democratic leaning, only 16 percent of Indian Americans,  voted for Trump in 2016. But a recent survey indicated that the president’s support among them has shot up to 28% largely due to Trump-Modi bonhomie.

To win them over, Biden and his chosen Indian American running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, have held several events with the community to stress that their interests are closer to the hearts of Democrats.

Addressing a virtual fundraiser for Indian Americans on Tuesday, Biden was at pains to stress his long-standing ties with India and the work he has done over the past several decades to improve India-US relations.

He also recalled his role as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to get the historic India-US civil nuclear deal approved more than 12 years ago.

Seven years ago, as vice president, Biden said he had told a business owner in Mumbai that the US-India partnership was the defining relationship in the 21st century. If elected “I will work to make sure it occurs,” he vowed.

Those fearing a downturn in India-US relations under Biden may not have also factored in Modi’s penchant for hugging diplomacy.

President Barack Obama was quick to invite Modi, the only person ever denied a US visa based on a little-known law on religious freedom for ten years, after his May 2014 election as Prime Minister.

And Modi was soon on first name terms with “my friend Barack”. So if Biden wins, Modi would no doubt be quick to embrace him. From Sandhu’s Delhi visit, it appears, India’s Plan B is already in motion.

READ MORE:

Donald Trump claims support of Indian Americans (September 5, 2020)
Trump, Biden campaigns wooing Indian Americans (July 21, 2020)
Trump’s India visit: More symbolism than substance (February 28, 2020)
Trump visit demonstrates ‘strong and enduring ties’ with India: White House (February 22, 2020)
Who would Indian Americans root for in US Presidential poll? (January 23, 2020)
Indian Americans emerge as key constituency in battleground states (August 23, 2020)
Trump’s India visit: An election oriented trip to court Indian American voters (February 21, 2020)

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