With Joe Biden all set to take the reins of the United States as the 46th President, observers in India are waiting to see what sort of continuity in policy his administration will bring vis-à-vis this country. For there is no doubt that Donald Trump’s presidency realised the importance of India-US strategic partnership and during his tenure the American focus towards the Indo-Pacific as the new centre of geopolitical gravity became very pronounced. There have been some justifiable concerns in India about the critical comments made by the Biden-Kamala Harris team on CAA, NRC and India’s Kashmir policy, in the run-up to the election. Such comments likely stemmed from ignorance, apart from being lobbying efforts by Pakistani elements who wormed their way into the campaign. However, let us not make any mistake that when it comes to messaging, India’s foreign policy establishment is nowhere as agile as the Pakistanis and their ISI, which thrives on anti-India propaganda. In fact, the NDA government’s overall failure in communicating its case in a humane law such as CAA and the brilliantly bold move of abrogating Article 370 was exploited to the hilt by vested interests, both here and abroad. Lest we hope otherwise, the Pakistanis and their front men and women will continue with this campaign of disinformation by, among other things, trying to co-opt the extreme left fringe of the Democratic Party in a bid to derail India-US relations. India needs to be prepared for this and up its game. But then let us also not overestimate the extreme left’s influence on Biden administration’s India policy. The extreme left’s—which goes by the name of “progressives”!—near-mainstreaming in the party cost Biden huge chunks of vote, including working class vote, denying him a landslide and making the election a tight race. So, it is expected for Biden to take a centrist position on most matters. In fact, when repeatedly attacked for his party’s perceived sway towards the left, Biden kept asserting that it was he who was the Democratic Party, and thus, by implication, not the left fringe. Joe Biden is too seasoned a politician and is a long-time advocate of good relations with India and so is expected to bring Barack Obama’s pro India tilt in his foreign policy. It was during Barack Obama’s tenure that one of the four foundational agreements, LEMOA, deepening military cooperation between India and the US, was signed. It must also be noted that there was no objection from the Democratic side when the Donald Trump administration signed the fourth and final foundational agreement, BECA with India, a week before the Presidential election. Let us also not forget that India is one of those countries that enjoys bipartisan support, as evident from the way the US Congress was vocal against China’s aggression against India. The bottom line is, the loony left among the Democrats may not like it, but the India-US strategic partnership is here to stay. Moreover, it was during Trump’s time that the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) branded India as a country of particular concern. So, this is a hazard that India will have to “live with”. But the partnership does not hinge on such things.
The larger question is if Joe Biden will bring his Atlanticist “worldview” to the geopolitical table. Or does he recognise that the balance of power has shifted and the dragon in the room is China? At stake is an Indo-Pacific charter, including the formalisation of the Quad into a security alliance. There is already hope in China that a Biden administration will take the edge off the trade war launched against it by Trump, thus giving Beijing a free pass. History shows that Democratic Presidents have been rather lenient towards China in the hope that its integration with economic mainstream thinking globally will ensure the end of authoritarianism. But that has not happened and now China is challenging the US’ numero-uno position in the world. Times have changed, China is more dangerous than ever. It cannot be allowed to shape the world in its own image—undemocratic and inhuman. This is the reason why the strategic partnership between India and the US is important. Hence, it is more than likely that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Joe Biden will usher in a new era of cooperation between India and US.