US 2020 election: Democrats vs Republicans- who is a better fit for India ?
Grace Ching Touthang
Contd from previous issue
It has to be noted that at different periods of history, both Democrat and Republican leaders have experienced problems and difficulties in dealing with India, but past reports show that the Republican administration has served India’s interests better especially with the Trump administration. Traditionally, India’s interests seem to be more aligned with the Conservative Right, but one can never be too sure as the field of foreign policy and National interest is an unpredictable one.
Priorities: Republicans vs Democrats
The Trump administration has always been hard on matters concerning trade, immigration, climate change and green energy. With the Biden administration, India can expect a relief in these areas as they will no longer be a prominent factor in US policy.
Instead there will be new areas of concern if the Democrats win. During the election campaign, Trump has been focusing on Indian Americans, the third largest Asian American group whereas Biden has been vocally critical of India’s internal issues such as CAA, NRC and J&K as American Muslims are also part of his election campaign along with Indian Americans. If Biden becomes President and seeks to intervene in India’s internal affairs it will put a strain on the diplomatic relation between the two.
The Trump administration has been hard on Iran and had imposed sanctions on them which puts India in a tough corner, but a Democratic President may give India a little more breathing room to develop economic ties with Iran and that would benefit India significantly.
The most significant and consequential part of all this is US policy on China. Trump has always taken an aggressive and firm stance against China and has tried hard to decouple US and Chinese economies and triggered a “trade war” between the two countries. Biden has also been openly critical of the treatment of the Uighur Muslims and stated that he would be tough on Human Rights violation in China and has also threatened China with sanctions because of their new Security Law but at the same time promising to maintain peaceful relations with them.
Biden will probably not diverge much from Trump’s policy on China but a shift in some areas is to be expected including engagement in areas like the environment and the economy and the removal of Trump’s tariff on Chinese goods which could be a cause for concern for some who fear that Biden might go soft on China.
Biden promises to fix Trump’s Foreign Policy errors and accused him of pushing away core allies instead of re-strengthening ties. He believes that in order to win against China, all the democracies of the world must unite and counter China. This might work better for India. Despite conflicting views on Kashmir, both Trump and Biden have supported India against China on LAC. It is clear to see that they both agree that China is a major threat that needs to be countered.
With Modi’s ideology being more in line with Trump’s, the Modi Government might not be very welcoming of Biden as he has been vocal about the internal issues of India but at the same time Biden could be a better fit for India in maintaining a balance of power when it comes to China.
Lately, the Republicans and Trump in particular, are no longer fixated on shared values but rather, the focus is on shared interests. Focussing too much on shared values can be a form of irritation as it often leads to public statements and open criticism of the internal affairs of other countries for which the Democrats are said to have taken the shine. For example, Democrat Senator Elizabeth Warren’s tweet criticizing India’s policy on Kashmir and religious pluralism or Congresswoman Jayapal introducing a resolution to remove restrictions imposed on Kashmir and open criticism of other South Asian Human Rights abuse has angered a number of people. This shows that Democrats tend to lay stress on shared democratic values and when those values are not shared equally, it can be a cause of concern.
However, it should also be noted that part of Biden’s campaign is Indian Americans and that he stands for improving and strengthening ties with India and if his administration does come into power he would most likely have, other than Kamala Harris, an influential group of Indian Americans like Vivek Murthy, Raj Chetty or Rich Verma on his team. It is also worth knowing that Indian Americans have traditionally supported the Democratic Party. On the other hand, Trump’s full support of the Hindus has driven a large number of votes away from the Democrats. Despite some conflictual talks on a variety of trade-related topics, Trump has not made offensive remarks against India or the Hindus and that has solidified his position as a pro-Hindu whereas the Democrats tend to take an anti-Hindu stance on certain issues.
However, there is also the view that a Democratic Presidency might not be as bad as some people make it out to be and that it could actually be more beneficial for India.
Since the Democrats are not that intrusive in established democracies, there might be no issue at all in the compatibility between Biden and Modi.
The Liberals also have strategic alliances with non-democratic, abusive dictatorship countries like Saudi Arabia and has always been generous to them. So, there is no reason as to why they will not work with a democratic country like India. In the next 4 years, the focus will be on countering China and rebuilding the economy after COVID-19, so marginal differences in ideologies won’t matter as much and since the Liberals are not known to be consistent when it comes to their approach on human rights and religious freedom issues and can be very opportunistic, a Democratic Presidency is easily manageable.
Conclusion: So far, Biden has been leading with the popular vote with an average polling lead of 8.4% and given that Trump’s approval ratings have dropped, there is a good chance that the Democrats might win but we should also remember that in the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton had the popular vote, having nearly 2.9 million votes more than Trump but Trump won through the electorate college with 304 votes compared to Clinton’s 227 votes. The electorate college in its most basic term is a group of Presidential electors whose vote will determine who gets elected into the Oval Office. The American people, when they vote are not actually voting for the Presidential candidates directly but instead are voting for their State electors who will in turn vote directly for the Presidential candidate with the most vote in their State.
Every State in America has a number of electors equal to the number of House Representatives and Senators they have. Undoubtedly, Trump shares a strong chemistry with Modi and India has indeed benefitted a lot from this partnership but it is hard to say whether the same could come out of a Biden-Modi partnership as personal chemistry also play an important role when it comes to building relationships. But regardless of who wins the election, India is becoming more important to the US now more than ever and has become an indispensable partner and both the Democrats and the Republicans know that the US needs India to face many global challenges coming ahead, not only in terms of trade but also for Geopolitical advantage whereas India needs the US for its military and financial advantage.
It is safe to assume that the strategic bilateral relationship between the two countries will only continue to grow and evolve regardless of who gets elected.