India-US Relations and the Democratic Party in the United States: Current Pretexts

Updated: Aug 1

Dhanya Visweswaran,

Research Intern,

Internationalism


“We have much in common. The US-India alliance is a defining partnership between the oldest democracy and the largest democracy.” – Barack Obama

Introduction


With Bernie Sanders officially withdrawing his candidature,[1] Joe Biden has become the Democrat forerunner and is now Republican forerunner Donald Trump’s main rival in the forthcoming U.S. presidential elections. However, Biden has a tough task ahead of him, since his individual ideologies do not particularly align with those of the party he is representing. This is especially relevant in the context of India, with the Democratic party potentially looking to call out the nation for its human rights issues. This is not particularly a stance that Biden will be too comfortable with.


The entire premise of the following analysis revolves around merely one sentence: “While the Republicans can cut through to strategic issues, the Democrats have some difficulty.”[2] Keeping this in mind, a spectrum needs to be visualized. On one end lie the right-winged Republicans, and on the other end are the left-winged Democrats. In the middle lie the Centrists. This analysis only focuses on the latter part of the spectrum, that is, the section extending from the Centrists and culminating at the left-winged Democrats. This aforementioned section in itself can further be equally divided, with Joe Biden being the source of the bifurcation, with his “left-of-centre policy plank”.[3]


Either Biden caves to the party’s left-winged policies or he somehow convince the party that his somewhat moderate approach is, in fact, what is best for America moving forward.


Why is it important for the U.S. to maintain a strategic partnership with India?


India is a nation that holds enormous potential, especially to become a global power. With its population estimated to supersede China’s by 2027 and its economy growing steadily at around 7 per cent since 2003,[4] India is an extremely viable option for multi-national companies to invest in, especially with its promises of cheap yet skilled labour and a relatively stable government. However, currently, it is China that forms the epicentre for investment by global companies.[5]


This fact is concerning when one considers that this is not the first time that there has been a mysterious outbreak of a rapidly spreading illness in China. The SARS outbreak of 2003 had a mortality rate of 10 per cent and even though it was a lot less disruptive than COVID-19, the circumstances surrounding its origin are suspect.[6] No county in the world has been responsible for two outbreaks of a deadly virus in the last twenty years and there is no guarantee that another such outbreak will not occur again.


Additionally, China is anything but transparent and accommodating, as was seen in its handling of the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan. There have been various reports of China censoring, misrepresenting, and suppressing important data regarding the pandemic which, if had been timely shared, could have proven to be invaluable in the war that the world is waging against COVID-19.[7] Hence, it is time to admit that investing in China might not be the smartest option, regardless of how attractive the prospects may be. Following this line of thought, the only nation that can arguably prove to be a counterpart to China is India.[8]


One of the most important aspects that give India an upper hand as compared to China is its commitment to the democratic form of government. An integral pillar of democracy is freedom of speech and expression, which India tries its level best to provide to its citizens. The U.S. is also a nation that is deeply loyal to its democratic traditions. The Republicans especially seem to realize that even if such a shift of base from China to India results in some loss in the short run, it will definitely pay off in the long run and help to hold China accountable for its transgressions.[9] Hence, the current government has put in much effort to strengthen its relationship with India.

The India-U.S. partnership becomes even more relevant considering that the U.S. has already, to a certain extent, commenced its efforts to hold China accountable for the COVID-19 outbreak.[10] It is also an issue that will form a core point in the many debates that will occur during the current presidential election cycle. Trump’s and Biden’s responses and strategies in holding China accountable may, to a large extent, influence the ultimate decision of who is elected President.[11] Both parties acknowledge that the U.S. will need support from various other nation-states, especially India, to achieve this goal.

However, India itself does not have the least controversial record when it comes to issues such as the revocation of Article 370 from Kashmir or the passing of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) to create a National Population Register (NPR). It has been increasingly accused of targeting the Muslim community and abusing human rights. While Republicans may overlook India’s transgressions for its ultimate aims, Democrats will definitely find it harder to do so despite the fact that transgressions may not be the same if a deeper analysis is assumed in the Indian case.


Can Biden convince the Democrats to adopt a more moderate approach towards India?


Sanders dropping out of the presidential race is definitely relieving news for the current Indian government, especially since Sanders’ outlook towards India became pretty clear through the following tweet: “Over 200 million Muslims call India home. Widespread anti-Muslim mob violence has killed at least 27 and injured many more. Trump responds by saying, "That's up to India." This is a failure of leadership on human rights.”[12]


This outlook is not just exclusive to Sanders but also held by various other Democrats. Biden, on the other hand, is definitely a much more moderate Democrat. As Obama’s right-hand man, Biden has consistently built up India-U.S. ties, saying that the government was looking to “deepen our strategic partnership on regional as well as global issues. The United States is elevating our engagement in the Asia-Pacific region. We refer to it as re-balance (…) India is an indispensable part of our re-balance towards the Asia-Pacific.”[13]


However, a key event to be noted is the recent dismissal of Amit Jani from Biden’s presidential campaign.[14] Jani is a long time Democrat who is a known supporter of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). He even co-founded the Overseas Friends of the BJP. His removal does not send a positive message to the Indian government. This movie certainly doesn’t seem to be Biden’s own doing, rather influenced by certain pressures from more left-winged Democrats and maybe even a ploy to secure a majority of the Muslim Community’s vote. Is this an indication of times to come where Biden increasingly sheds his own moderate policies to the tone and tenor of the more left-winged Democrats? Only time will tell.


Conclusions


India stands in a precarious position. With Biden as President, it might still have to answer questions posed towards it regarding its recent policies and human rights issues despite the fact that a contentious case does have adverse checks and balances. Though Biden realizes the importance of having India on the U.S.’ side, he might not be able to successfully convince all the Democrats to completely let India off the hook for its transgressions.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s words seem appropriate when considering the Democratic Party’s response towards India. “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.” It is clear what most of the Democrats would like. But will Biden feel the same way?

References

[1] Anthony Zurcher, ‘Bernie Sanders quits: It looked so good for him. What went wrong?’ (BBC, 9 April 2020) <https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-52230979> as accessed 24 May 2020. [2] Seema Sirohi, ‘What is the Democratic Party’s Vision for India?’ (Observer Research Foundation, 21 May 2020) <https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/what-democratic-party-vision-india-66477/> as accessed 24 May 2020. [3] Opinion, ‘What Joe Biden as US President may mean’ (Livemint, 11 Mar 2020) <https://www.livemint.com/opinion/online-views/what-joe-biden-as-us-president-may-mean-11583947043661.html> as accessed 24 May 2020. [4] Henry Olsen, ‘Trump’s trip to India could be his most important foreign policy visit yet’ (The Washington Post, 25 February 2020) <https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/02/24/trumps-trip-india-could-be-his-most-important-foreign-policy-visit-yet/> as accessed 24 May 2020. [5] Kenneth Rapoza, ‘Coronavirus could be the end of China as a Global Manufacturing Hub’ (Forbes, 1 March 2020) <https://www.forbes.com/sites/kenrapoza/2020/03/01/coronavirus-could-be-the-end-of-china-as-global-manufacturing-hub/#59a26d665298> as accessed 24 May 2020. [6] Henry Olsen, ‘It’s time for global businesses to admit it: China isn’t a good investment’ (The Washington post, 14 February 2020) <https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/02/14/its-time-global-businesses-admit-it-china-isnt-good-investment/> as accessed 24 May 2020. [7] Nicholas Kristof, ‘Coronavirus Spreads, and the World Pays for China’s Dictatorship’ (The New York Times, 29 January 2020) <https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/29/opinion/coronavirus-china-government.html> as accessed 24 May 2020. [8] Aparna Pande, ‘US wants India to stand up to china. It can do that only with American aid and tech suppport’ (The Print, 18 May 2020) <https://theprint.in/opinion/us-wants-india-to-stand-up-to-china-it-can-do-that-only-with-american-aid-and-tech-support/422444/> as accessed 24 May 2020. [9] WION Web Team, ‘India a part of 18-point plan of US to uncover China’s lies’ (WION, 15 May 2020) <https://www.wionews.com/world/india-a-part-of-18-point-plan-of-us-to-uncover-chinas-lies-298782> as accessed 24 May 2020. [10] Deirdre Shesgreen & Kim Hjelmgaard, ‘Dangerous dynamic: Coronavirus threatens new ‘Cold War’ between US and China’ (USA Today, 6 May 2020) <https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2020/05/05/us-china-coronavirus-covid-19-donald-trump-xi-jinping-tensions/3068501001/> as accessed 24 May 2020. [11] Andrei Kadomtsev, ‘Viral elections: Will coronavirus impact the outcome of US presidential race?’ (Modern Diplomacy, 15 March 2020) <https://moderndiplomacy.eu/2020/03/15/viral-elections-will-coronavirus-impact-the-outcome-of-us-presidential-race/> as accessed 24 May 2020. [12] Bernie Sanders, <https://twitter.com/berniesanders/status/1232763321163579395?lang=en> as accessed 24 May 2020. [13] Ashwin Ahmad, ‘What India Should Expect From A Joe Biden Presidency’ (StratNews Global, 10 April 2020) <https://stratnewsglobal.com/what-india-should-expect-from-a-joe-biden-presidency/> as accessed 24 May 2020. [14] Ghazala Salam,


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