It is a classic catch-22 situation for India – do we support Trump who has been a vocal critic on multiple issues concerning India or the seemingly more docile Joe Biden who has been an opponent of the Citizenship Amendment Act?
Seldom has the history of the world been hooked to a single event. The US general elections today command such significance, but as far as India is concerned, the million dollar question is – who do we choose? Do we prefer the jingoistic, motor mouth, incumbent President Donald Trump? Or are we better off with the shrewd yet controversial former Vice President and Democrat presidential hopeful Joe Biden?
It’s A Difficult Choice!
India has emerged as one of the closest allies of the United States in the last decade. We have much at stake; after all, over one million Indian American citizens are voting and a large number of political candidates of Indian origin are seeking stints in American political offices. But the moot issue is this- what stakes does India have in this historical US election?
At the outset, it is quite difficult for India to make a choice between the two candidates. When Donald Trump was elected President in 2016, India braced for a new impact on ties. At the end of four years, the result has been mixed bag. Trump has been hard on China through actions such as igniting a trade war. He has supported India’s incremental militarization of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) besides providing diplomatic support to India on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir which has proved to be perceptibly popular for many Indians.
Yet, what has been ignored by a large section of Indians is that Trump has often excoriated India for being a “Tariff King”. Moreover, he also blamed India (alongside China) for being a high emitter of greenhouse gas emissions which he used as an excuse to withdraw from the Paris Climatic Accord.
When it comes to Biden, the trajectory of the Indo-US relationship in the last decade has been largely positive with occasional aberrations. Biden is more experienced then Trump vis-à-vis India because Biden was Vice President during the Obama regime. He has been one of the most vocal proponents of the Indo-US civil nuclear deal and has lambasted Pakistan on numerous occasions, be it the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai, or the US Special Forces raid on Abbottabad in May 2011 which took out Al Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden, by calling Pakistan a “state sponsor of terror”.
However, Biden is not a holy cow. He has been an equally vocal critic of India’s handling of “human rights violations” in Kashmir. He has softly criticized India for passing the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). Also, Biden’s family has significant business relations with China, which The New York Post (NYP) showed in a recent expose. All this indicates that New Delhi will have a hard time belling the cat called named Joe Biden.
Choosing the Lesser Evil
India, therefore, faces the choice of choosing the lesser evil; make no mistake, both candidates have their equal share of achievements and follies. However, it will be better if India chooses Joe Biden over the incumbent Donald Trump. There are multiple reasons.
Firstly, Biden will help in regaining the deep trust which was the hallmark of Indo-US ties during the Obama regime, but which was somehow faded during the Trump era. He will help in pushing Indo-US relationship to new highs which will invariably help in strengthening India’s position and presence in the Indo-Pacific.
Secondly, Joe Biden has publicly proclaimed that if he is voted to power, he will take a far tougher stance on China. Although it remains to be seen whether he will walk the talk, it appears quite discernible that he needs to take a hard line approach in China’s case to satisfy his allies and his domestic voter base, who are miffed over China’s alleged role in the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic as well as China’s gross human rights abuses in Tibet, Hong Kong and Xinjiang.
Thirdly, Biden employs subtlety and grace in his conduct and thinks twice before criticizing his allies which sometimes can pay rich dividends in foreign policy.
Fourthly, while it is true that Trump’s America has lambasted Pakistan time and again on terrorism, if Biden is voted to presidency, he will help India strengthen its presence in Afghanistan by negotiating a better deal with the Taliban. He is also likelier to actually hold Pakistan accountable more strictly over its funding and propagation of terrorism and will perhaps help bring greater stability to South Asia.
US Elections Decisive for India
Whatever choice America makes today, it is quite clear that India could still be in a win-win situation. The elections are a precursor to a new chapter in India-US ties, with global implications. However, India must be mindful of the issues that Biden will emphasize on if he is elected President, hence it is best if New Delhi does not lose sight of the longer issues at stake.
Pranay Kumar Shome
Pranay Kumar Shome is a strategic affairs analyst and a columnist.
The views and opinions expressed in the above article belong to the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official opinion, policy or position of Lokmaanya.