The Biden administration’s commitment to democracy human rights could introduce new irritants into ties between the United States and India but the Biden-Harris team has the savvy to boost the relationship, feels South Asia expert Milan Vaishnav.
After Joe Biden sworn-in as the 46th President of the United States on January 20, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: “Looking forward to working with him to strengthen India-US strategic partnership… And to take the India-US partnership to even greater heights.”
He added: “We stand united and resilient in addressing common challenges and advancing global peace and security.”
It was seen as a clear message that the Trump era was history as far as India was concerned.
There are concerns in some circles that the administration of President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have, in the run-up to the presidential elections, been critical of some of the Modi government’s policies.
The Biden campaign’s website for Muslim Americans, https://joebiden.com/muslimamerica/, stated clearly: “Joe Biden has been disappointed by the measures that the government of India has taken with the implementation and aftermath of the National Register of Citizens in Assam and the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act into law. These measures are inconsistent with the country’s long tradition of secularism and with sustaining a multi-ethnic and multi-religious democracy.”
So, indica News asked Milan Vaishnav, director and Senior Fellow, South Asia Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, about his take on US-India ties going forward. Especially in light of Harris having this image of being a human rights champion.
“I don’t think it’s a question of Harris per se, but the administration’s overall commitment to democracy and human rights,” Vaishnav said.
“I do expect these issues to be a bigger priority and this could introduce new irritants into the relationship as India is likely to bristle at any perceived domestic meddling.
“Having said that,” he continued, “I detect no desire on the part of the new administration to pick any fights with India — especially at a time when the China challenge looms larger than ever.”
In 2006, in an interview with veteran Washington, DC-based South Asian journalist Aziz Haniffa, Biden had explained that two of the three or four pillars upon which security for the world will be built in the 21st century are India and the United States.
“My dream is that in 2020, the two closest nations in the world will be India and the United States,” Biden had said.
Biden’s presidential campaign portal also stated he has also worked to make that vision a reality, including leading the charge in Congress, working with Democrats and Republicans, to approve the US-India civil nuclear agreement in 2008.
It is believed that Trump mostly steering clear of Kashmir led many Indian Americans, especially those who support Modi, to vote for him.
“I fully expect that the Biden administration will take over where the Trump administration left off,” Vaishnav told indica News when asked how we felt the Modi government’s relationship with the new US administration would pan out.
“Despite the turmoil of the past four years, US-India relations emerged relatively unscathed. I expect the Biden administration, however, to devote more time and attention to getting bilateral economic relations back on track,” Vaishnav said.
“Trump’s single-minded focus on trade deficits meant that US-India economic engagement was largely seen through this one prism,” he added.
The Biden-Harris team is top rate in terms of competence, experience, and savvy, Vaishnav said.
“It is a group of internationally minded officials who possess an innate desire to work multilaterally to solve pressing challenges. It is also an incredibly diverse team — we are seeing record numbers of minorities and women in high-level positions,” he pointed out.
Biden has appointed two Kashmiris too: Aisha Shah, partnerships manager at the White House Office of Digital Strategy, and Sameera Fazili, an economist who has been appointed as deputy director, National, in his team.
“In my humble opinion, I think this is all to the good,” Vaishnav said.