It is a classic Catch 22 situation for India, whether to support Trump who has been a vocal critic on multiple issues concerning India, or the seemingly more docile Joe Biden who has been an opponent of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
Seldom has the history of the world been hooked to a single event. The US general elections on 3rd November this year commands such significance, but as far as India is concerned the million-dollar question is whether the jingoistic motor-mouth Donald Trump or the shrewd yet controversial former vice-president Joe Biden will better serve India’s interests.
India has emerged as one of the closest allies of the United States in the last decade. Above one million Indian American citizens will vote in this year’s US elections, while one of the candidates for Vice-President is of Indian origin. What stake does India as a nation state have in this historic US election? At the outset it is difficult for India to make a choice between the two candidates. When Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, India braced for a new impact on ties. At the end of four years, the result has been a mixed bag.
While Trump has been very hard on China through actions like igniting a trade war, supporting India’s incremental militarisation of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), besides providing diplomatic support on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir which has proved to be perceptibly popular for many Indians, what has been ignored by a large section of Indians is that Trump has often excoriated India for being the “Tariff King”. He also blamed India for being a high emitter of greenhouse gas emissions and used it as an excuse to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord.
When it comes to Biden, the trajectory of the Indo-US relationship in the last decade has been largely positive with occasional aberrations. Biden is more experienced then Trump vis-à-vis India because Biden was vice president during the Obama regime. He was one of the most vocal proponents of the Indo-US civil nuclear deal, had lambasted Pakistan on numerous occasions be it the 26/11 terror attacks or the US special forces raid on Abbottabad in May 2011 which took out Al Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden, by calling Pakistan a “state sponsor of terror”.
However, Biden is not a holy cow. He has been a vocal critic of India’s handling of the Kashmir “human rights violation”, and Biden’s family also has significant business relations with China, which The New York Post (NYP) reported in a recent exposé. He also criticised India for passing the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). All this indicates that New Delhi will have a hard time belling the cat called “Biden”.
Choosing the Lesser Evil
India therefore faces the choice of choosing the lesser evil. Both the candidates have their equal share of pros and cons. However, it is better that India chooses Joe Biden over the incumbent Donald Trump. There are multiple reasons for doing so:
Firstly, Biden will help in regaining the deep trust which was the hallmark of Indo-US ties during the Obama regime but which was somehow lost during the Trump era. He will help in pushing Indo-US relationship to new highs which will help in strengthening India’s position in the Indo-Pacific.
Secondly, Joe Biden has publicly proclaimed that if he is voted to power, he will take a far tougher stance on China, although it remains to be seen whether he walks the talk. It is quite probable, though, that he has to take a hard line to China to satisfy his allies and his domestic voter base who are miffed over China’s alleged role in the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic as well as China’s gross rights abuses in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.
Thirdly, Biden employs subtlety and grace in his conduct and thinks twice before criticising his allies, which sometimes can pay rich dividends in foreign policy.
Fourthly, while it is true that Trump’s America has lambasted Pakistan time and again on terrorism and Pakistan, if Biden is voted to presidency he will help India strengthen its presence in Afghanistan by negotiating a better deal with the Taliban. He will hold Pakistan accountable more strictly over its terror funding and Islamist propagation and will perhaps help bring stability to South Asia.
—The writer is a freelance columnist and strategic affairs analyst. firstname.lastname@example.org