Lakshmana Venkat Kuchi
We are once again in election mode.
Yes, Bihar is going for Assembly elections in a few weeks, and there are several bye elections in different parts of India.
There is naturally a keen interest in watching the political winds in one of the most politically alive and mature State of Bihar.
But for all Indians, there is one more electoral contest, across the seven seas – in the United States of America – for electing its President for four years. The American voter has the choice to continue their trust in incumbent Donald Trump or choose his challenger in Jo Biden.
The contest is already heated up with one of the three Nationally televised debates between the two contenders already over. It generated a lot of heat and dust, with President Trump’s performance coming in for sharp criticism from a broad cross section of the American voters. But what makes the contest keen is that there is a huge section of the voters’ support Trump and his strong-arm tactics when it comes to a host of issues.
Pray why should we be even talking about elections happening somewhere else, when we are faced with several pressing issues of our own, would seem like the most pertinent question from many.
One cannot dismiss them entirely, but what needs to be stressed here is that anything that the global leader does, impacts every country in the world. In an intertwined global economy, what happens in the world’s biggest economy will have a direct bearing on the well-being of countries linked to that economy.
India and the United States have been having close trade and business ties since decades, and the economic cooperation has only steadily increased over the years. India is also at present enjoying a closer relationship with the United States, what with the close rapport of President Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In fact, India, and people of Indian origin in the USA, are crucial for Trump as well, and it is not without reason that he came over to India earlier this year in February. Prime Minister Modi rolled out the red carpet for Trump with a special programme for the visiting dignitary – Namaste Trump. The American President was mindful of the influence of the people of Indian origin with voting rights in the US and was pleased no end when Modi invited him at a special meet of Indian diaspora – Howdy Modi in the US.
The importance of this section of voters, who have traditionally been voting Democrats, including last elections when most of them supported Hillary Clinton, is not lost on the Blue brigade either. It is not without reason that Jo Biden enlisted a person of Indian-African descent Kamala Harris as his running mate.
Already, the battle has generated lot of heat and is peaking, with just about a month left for the D-day in November.
As of now, the battle seems evenly poised, even if tilted slightly in favour of Jo Biden. But pollsters and analysts fear calling the election. Yes, Biden has a lead of some 6 to 7 points over Trump Nationally, but what matters is if the voters will come out and vote. In the last elections, wherein Trump managed a narrow victory, many Democrat voters just did not get out to vote. Or so is the reason trotted out by the Democrats.
Which is why, for the past over a year, voter education is on top of the agenda of the American Opposition party leaders.
Now, the keen interest the American elections is generating in India is for a host of reasons. At the individuals’ level – for students and their parents, most of whom are planning to go to the United States for studies or work, and the relatives of students already in the US and face the threat of being deported due to a change in Visa regulations of that country – a Trump victory is something they dread. It is not so comforting that a US Judge has just blocked Trump’s new visa regulations.
In comparison, Biden and Kamala Harris combo has some nice words on this issue. And the Indian community would not be unduly worried over a prospective Trump loss.
But when it comes to how the outcome of US elections would impact India as a whole, it would be interesting to note that India is at present having good relations, although America first and America must benefit always stance of Trump at times collides with Indian interests and priorities on trade, energy, and immigration. In fact, Trump’s tough stance on immigration has the potential to put Indian leaders under stress within India as the Opposition has already pounced on Modi to explain why his friend was treating Indians unfairly.
But all this would not stand in the way of the robust business relations between the two countries, built over the decades.
Fortunately, the outcome of the US Presidential poll is unlikely to make any dent in this aspect of ties between the two Nations.
If we take a step back and look at Biden’s years as Deputy to President Obama from 2009 to 2017, his work on the foreign policy front of the US will come as a relief to countries like India. Especially, Biden as VP forged a strong partnership with India and with him as President, it is only natural to assume the same would continue. And perhaps with greater emphasis. Even on the issue of immigrations, the Obama administration’s stance had in fact benefitted the Indian immigrants, when it allowed spouses of H1B visa holders to obtain work authorisation, helping them financially till they secured green cards. The Trump administration on the other hand threatened to cut it off and came out with changes to immigration policy, that perhaps fitted in neatly with his sons of the soil narrative on jobs for Americans and how foreigners were taking away their opportunities.
Trump also imposed tariffs on Indian goods, and who can forget the implied threat to India over Hydro chloroquine Even a couple of days ago, Trump blamed India for putting out wrong numbers on Covid deaths, to argue out a case for himself to the American electorate that he did a great job on fighting the pandemic and saving a lot of American lives.
While the Obama administration is credited with building a strategic partnership with India even in the defence sphere, President Trump’s actions lay bare his gains for America and its defence manufacturers as his top priority.
But it will be on crucial support for India, during the ongoing tension with China on the borders, that the true nature of the relationship – a dear friend in need – would be tested. So far, timely statements of support have sent a strong message to China, but with US busily engaged in elections, how much that country would be able to help remains to be seen.
India and Prime Minister Modi knows this, and appears to have factored all these elements into the overall strategy to deal with the Chinese.
Lakshmana Venkat Kuchi is a senior journalist tracking social, economic, and political changes across the country. He was associated with the Press Trust of India, The Hindu, Sunday Observer and Hindustan Times. He can be reached on [email protected]
and Twitter handle @kvlakshman