By Aarti Tikoo Singh
New Delhi, Jan 14 (IANS) The US-India strategic partnership is likely to continue on the same upward trajectory, albeit with some millstones under Joe Biden’s presidency which will assume office next week on January 20.
Even as outgoing President Donald Trump lost in the November 3, 2020, elections, his broader foreign policy agenda, sans his brashness, has more or less shaped the future agenda for his successors.
Going by Biden’s statements and that of crucial members of his nominated team — Antony Blinken as Secretary of State and William Burns as CIA Director — India is likely to assume the same significance strategically as it enjoyed during the Trump administration.
While Biden during his election campaign bragged about his instrumental role in the India-US nuclear deal and overall support for the India-US partnership under the former Barack Obama administration, Blinken’s view on India is apparent from the positions he assumed through his long career in Washington D.C.
Blinken was National Security Adviser to Biden when he was Vice President and Deputy National Security Advisor to Obama. He also served as Deputy Secretary of State under the same administration.
Widely known to a be a close confidante of Biden, Blinken was his foreign policy adviser to his election campaign. At a Hudson Institute interaction, Blinken last year announced that a Biden presidency would give very high priority to strengthening and deepening relationship with India.
Similarly, in an elaborate article in the Atlantic in February 2020, William Burns supporting this view, acknowledged that the momentum of the US-India strategic partnership “accelerated” under Prime Minister Narendra Modi who “embraced a more confident role for India on the world stage and the revitalization of its domestic modernisation”.
However, the foreign policy team of Prime Minister Modi has a job cut out for itself to smoothen the rough edges in its dealings with the Biden presidency on the issues where it is least likely to get the unprecedented concessions which it got under Trump.
In the last four years under Trump, India found itself on an elevated ground in the US scheme of things. From a strong personal rapport between Prime Minister Modi and President Trump to a common vision for the Indo-Pacific region, the US and India saw convergence on many issues. The Trump administration’s decisive shift in its foreign policy on China which has aggressively expanded in Asia and now breathing down India’s neck along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh, offered New Delhi a huge respite.
The Trump-Pompeo team persistently put pressure on the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) through the last two years using several measures from trade war to exploring the formalization of Quad to contain its imperial expansionism. Earlier, when the US-China relationship thrived due to bilateral trade, New Delhi could not afford to antagonize Beijing even if it showed aggression along India’s borders. However, with the Trump presidency’s open hostility with the CCP and support for India, New Delhi found itself in a stronger position with respect to Beijing.
India also benefited from President Trump’s unambigious toughness against Pakistan over cross-border terrorism. Above all, even as President Trump wanted to finalize a trade deal with India during his visit early last year but the Modi government negotiated for more time. Under Biden administration, this dynamic is likely to continue. But what’s clear is that the Biden presidency will not extend the same concessions that Trump offered to Modi on domestic issues.
The Modi government escaped pressure from the Trump administration on the nullification of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) which grants citizenship to persecuted minorities in the three neighbouring Islamic countries, farmers’ agitation and other similar internal issues on which the US Democrats have traditionally intervened in.
Both Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, during the election campaign, made it evident that they will hold the BJP government in India accountable for not just the rights of religious and caste minorities but their sentiments too. Harris, an American of Indian descent, particularly took upon herself to question the Modi government over internal matters related to minorities.
Significantly, William Burns, in his article in the Atlantic while acknowledging Modi’s role in strengthening India, did not hold back from branding both him and Trump as “part of the problem in a world where democracies are busy undoing themselves”.
India will require deft diplomacy to manoeuver its way out of such difficult spots.