Skip to main content

Relations with India: What hope from Biden administration amidst 'major' challenges

By Dr Simi Mehta

Indo-US relations have played a major role in international politics for both the countries and even to the world. Historically, since the Nehru-Truman talk in 1949, there has been no looking back for both countries. Despite a few bumps on the road, both countries share common interests in fighting terrorism, enhancing human rights, increased trade networks among many others.
In 2020, the US politics witnessed a very different dynamic. First, the country successfully conducted an election during a pandemic and second heralded the possibility of electing a female vice-president for the very first time in the history of American politics and executive leadership.
To study how the new US administration under President-elect Joe Biden and discuss the impact of it on the Indo-US relations a panel discussion was conducted by the Center for International Relations and Strategic Studies (CIRSS), Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), India and the Rising Powers Initiative, Sigur Center for Asian Studies at the George Washington University, Washington DC, USA.
Prof Deepa M Ollapally, Research Professor of International Affairs and the Associate Director of the Sigur Center for Asian Studies, spoke about the strategic relations between India and US and the possible changes and modifications that it can witness under President-elect Biden’s administration. She stressed upon the important point out here that regardless of the leadership in America, India would continue to be a significant strategic partner for the country.
Primarily because it shares common interests in the Chinese aggression on the Indian frontiers and Indo-Pacific. Biden administration would seek to have cordial relations with China as opposed to Trump, because none of the parties would want any form of confrontation. At present, it would be interesting to witness how both Prime Minister Modi and President–elect Biden form a network to combat the pandemic and how the politics over the vaccine would unfold.
The idea behind the strategic Indo-US partnership was pushed by the Obama-Biden administration very proactively. It was primarily to secure democracy and rule of law in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), as was firmed up in the Pacific region. In the Biden-Modi administration, they would have rather little worries carrying forward the already existing regulations and understanding.
Biden also inherits a large amount of agreements like the foundational defence arrangements like Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), that would be an added advantage in pushing for continued positivity in the bilateral relations between India and US.
Prof Ollapally pointed out the opportunities and challenges for the Biden administration which may or may not be beneficial to India. For example, if Biden re-enters the Iran nuclear deal it could be a major opportunity for him to reset the US understanding with other countries: China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, and Germany who are part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
It will be a matter of time to determine how these opportunities have had an impact on India. Major challenges that remain matters of concern include: domestic economic recovery and the post-pandemic nation building, Trump-era immigration policies etc.
She concluded her remarks by saying that it would also be interesting to see whether US and China would be signatories to the the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), despite being two large countries of the world.
According to Richard Rossow, Senior Adviser and Wadhwani Chair in US-India Policy Studies at Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), in the pre-Covid period, India and US had a very successful and cordial relationship as compared to any other country when it came to trade. The figures showed a very high profit for both countries regardless of the claims made by both New Delhi and Washington.
Therefore, the numbers project a good and satisfactory approach towards the economic ties between the two countries. This is aided by the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been a pro-investment leader all throughout his term. He has significantly cut down on FDIs and has constantly encouraged foreign companies to invest in India and look for opportunities here. This definitely has had an impact on the US-India relations.
In the prevailing Covid-era there has been a slight change in the dynamics of trade between the two countries. India’s rank has fallen from being the 9th largest trading partner of the US to rank 12. He pointed out that there was still time in the future to decide whether or not India could potentially be a top trading country, however, at present that dream is farfetched. It will only depend on how the foreign companies/investors do their business in India.
China is looking forward to expanding its global domination. This definitely poses a great threat to India in Asia and to the USA in the world. It is here that the countries need to adopt the steps that China has been undertaking to achieve its goal. The focus should not be on how much a country is importing or exporting, rather what one needs to constantly monitor is its manufacturing patterns and its modern techniques and resources.
These are some of the Chinese guidelines for 2025; therefore, in order to prevent Chinese domination, India and the USA need to adopt such policies. Data flow remains another key aspect of concern with China. But it has to be understood that in order to prevent domination, data flow needs to be open and more transparent between India and the USA. It is undoubtedly the most important aspect, and at the core of Indo-US relations.
Rossow concluded by saying that in the first half of the Biden administration there is an urgent need for India to roll back the stringent barriers, come closer in the trading sector and mend the existing gaps between India and the USA.
“India matters” has been a very prevalent phrase for the longest time. The country is a rising power in Asia. With its advancement in technology, knowledge and defence techniques, India is undoubtedly a very prominent and important voice in world politics and global affairs. Therefore, Prof KP Vijayalakshmi, Professor of US Studies at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University pointed out that regardless of the President in power in the US, India will remain an important strategic power. There have definitely been slight disagreements, however, in the last four leaderships, India has remained a rather important ally.
There are several factors that bring the US and India together. But according to Prof. Vijayalakshmi the most significant reason is the defence cooperation. Both India and US believe that there is an immediate need to reestablish and strengthen their defence ties on a much larger level. 
In the very recent Doklam standoff concerning India and China, it is believed that the US had a major role to play in bringing peace to the situation only because of the various defence agreements (like the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) and Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) and BECA between US and India. 
Focus should not be on how much one is importing or exporting, rather on manufacturing patterns and its modern techniques and resources
It is agreements like these that provide India with real actionable intelligence. Thus, in order to enable any form of agreement there must be a dialogue between the two concerned parties that would help in the optimum utilization of the agreement in future. 
The continued talks and relations between the two countries is the sole reason that the Doklam issue was prevented from turning into a much more violent confrontation with China. Therefore, it is by no doubt that we can establish the fact that India is not just important to the US for resources but the US is important for India when it comes to defence cooperation and economic prosperity.
The US administration under President–elect Joe Biden strongly believes that India is a key figure in the Indo-Pacific belt and without India being a part of it, there is not much other countries could do in the region. Thus, a statement like this from the US government gives India a stronger role over the region.
India’s interests with Afghanistan will also prove to be a point of discussion between India and the US. Despite several contentions by the people on believing Taliban, the Indian convoy did end up meeting them at the Doha convention. This meeting with India and Afghanistan is important to the US primarily because the Biden administration believes in the systematic withdrawal of troops from the place but also, more importantly, a systematic end to the war as the ultimate goal.
Therefore, this matter could be one of the most important topics that India, the Afghan government and the US administration could collectively deliberate, talk and debate about and possibly reach to a peaceful consensus.
During the question and answer session, Prof Ollapally spoke about how China should not be seen as a ‘threat’ to the US and India relationship despite the open dislike by US President Trump. USA’s interests in India would only be successful if India’s economics is successful and flourishing.
At present, China has a lot of border issues, not just India but Japan, the South China Sea issue etc, therefore, she pointed that due to these growing concerns, this would be the ideal situation for both India and the US to come together as one strong bloc.

Adding on to this, Prof Vijayalakshmi iterated the fact that rather than just India and the US trying to be the pioneers against Chinese aggression, it would be ideal if organizations like the ASEAN is encouraged to participate in the dialogue processes. The main reason for including ASEAN would be to welcome and make them aware about how difficult it is to handle a country like China which constantly has border issues and yet has a strong trade relation.
In her closing remarks, Prof. Ollapally says that the new Biden administration has a lot of existing problems to deal with as soon it resumes power. The pandemic, the vaccine rollouts and the upliftment of the economy from the losses it incurred during and before the pandemic. Therefore, in the first two years of the administration, India should be assured that there will not be any stringent agreements or deals. However, after two years, the India government can expect a few changes and formulations.
As a disadvantage to the Indian government, it could be a trouble because Biden has always been a strong supporter of “democracy at home and abroad”. Therefore, India should gear itself to answer questions related to Kashmir, CAA and NRC.
Prof Vijayalakshmi pointed out that both the governments have a lot of common grounds that they could possibly talk and discuss about. In the agricultural sector, India could draw lessons from US domestic agricultural policies and focus on those areas that converge the interests of government and the farmers.
Overall the webinar brought to light the need to consistently engage in the issues of contention while keeping the common interests, rule of law, democracy and values of pluralism at the heart of bilateral ties between India and America. India should make all efforts to continue to intensify its warm relations with the Biden administration as it did during the Trump administration in the last four years. 
***
Acknowledgement: Annmary Thomas, research intern, IMPRI

Comments

TRENDING

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

'Anti-poor stand': Even British wouldn't reduce Railways' sleeper and general coaches

By Anandi Pandey, Sandeep Pandey*  Probably even the British, who introduced railways in India, would not have done what the Bhartiya Janata Party government is doing. The number of Sleeper and General class coaches in various trains are surreptitiously and ominously disappearing accompanied by a simultaneous increase in Air Conditioned coaches. In the characteristic style of BJP government there was no discussion or debate on this move by the Indian Railways either in the Parliament or outside of it. 

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Why convert growing badminton popularity into an 'inclusive sports opportunity'

By Sudhansu R Das  Over the years badminton has become the second most popular game in the world after soccer.  Today, nearly 220 million people across the world play badminton.  The game has become very popular in urban India after India won medals in various international badminton tournaments.  One will come across a badminton court in every one kilometer radius of Hyderabad.  

Faith leaders agree: All religious places should display ‘anti-child marriage’ messages

By Jitendra Parmar*  As many as 17 faith leaders, together for an interfaith dialogue on child marriage in New Delhi, unanimously have agreed that no faith allows or endorses child marriage. The faith leaders advocated that all religious places should display information on child marriage.

How embracing diversity enriched my life, brought profound sense of joy

By Mike Ghouse*  If you can shed the bias towards others, you'll love the connections with every human that God or his systems have created. This gives a sense of freedom and brings meaning and joy to life. Embracing and respecting how people dress, eat, and practice their beliefs becomes an enriching experience.

Ayurveda, Sidda, and knowledge: Three-day workshop begins in Pala town

By Rosamma Thomas*  Pala town in Kottayam district of Kerala is about 25 km from the district headquarters. St Thomas College in Pala is currently hosting a three-day workshop on knowledge systems, and gathered together are philosophers, sociologists, medical practitioners in homeopathy and Ayurveda, one of them from Nepal, and a few guests from Europe. The discussions on the first day focused on knowledge systems, power structures, and epistemic diversity. French researcher Jacquiline Descarpentries, who represents a unique cooperative of researchers, some of whom have no formal institutional affiliation, laid the ground, addressing the audience over the Internet.

Hindutva economics? 12% decline in manufacturing enterprises, 22.5% fall in employment

By Bhabani Shankar Nayak*  The messiah of Hindutva politics, Narendra Modi, assumed office as the Prime Minister of India on May 26, 2014. He pledged to transform the Indian economy and deliver a developed nation with prosperous citizens. However, despite Modi's continued tenure as the Prime Minister, his ambitious electoral promises seem increasingly elusive. 

Banned Maoist party protests in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, claims support across globe

By Harsh Thakor*  Despite being a banned and designated as terrorist organisation under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act since 2009, the Communist Party of India (Maoist) is said to have successfully implemented a one-day bandh across Kolhan division in Jharkhand on July 10th, with repurcussions in the neighbouring Chhattisgarh. The bandh was called to protest against alleged police brutality in the Kolhan-Saranda region.