Joe Biden has been elected as the 46th President of the United States, after what was a long and unusual campaign. He will be the oldest president ever to take office at the age of 77 and will do so at a time when his country is as divided as ever. He will be joined by Kamala Harris, the daughter of an Indian immigrant, as his Vice President. Donald Trump might not leave quietly. This has been known for some time but the closer you look at his claims the more apparent it becomes that he has none.
As always, the US Presidential elections are consequential to politics world over. The US and India have had close relations for a while now, but there are some key issues which will receive special emphasis going forward.
During his term, Trump seemed to form a good relationship with Modi, even going as far as calling him his close personal friend. While the pair made an effort to highlight this friendship in public, the supposed closeness did not manifest into policy decisions that benefitted Indians.
Trump imposed tariffs on Indian exports to the US, restricted the issuance of H-1B visas, and forced India to import its oil from the US instead of Iran where it was cheaper. He was tough on China, however, which is a stance that helps India in the ongoing border issues, and remained silent on the domestic issues the country has been facing with respect to Kashmir and the CAA NRC bills.
Over the years, American presidents have all agreed that it is important to maintain good relations with India, but they have all done so in their own way. Similarly, Joe Biden will maintain the status quo, but he will do so on his terms.
While Trump took a more confrontational stance against China and its growing influence on the world, his successor is more likely to go down the diplomatic route. Biden is unlikely to fight China the way Trump did, but this does not mean that he will be totally passive in his approach. He has already stated that a stable Indo-Pacific region is his preference with respect to the border issues at Ladakh, but there is a worry in New Delhi that he could leave India high-and-dry when push comes to shove. There would also be greater focus on India’s long term ally, Russia.
Biden has also been against the US’ never-ending wars in various parts of the world, and has said in the past that he wants to take troops out of these places but only after ensuring that threats are nullified and stability is achieved at least to some extent. The US military’s presence in Afghanistan is important in keeping Pakistan in check, so it will be interesting to see how that situation pans out.
Trade relations with the US during Trump’s four years were not great. While the US remained India’s largest trading partner, it did so at a cost. Not only did the US impose a number of tariffs on Indian exports like steel and aluminum, Trump also did away with the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP). The GSP is a list of items that can be traded duty free, which the US abolished after India retaliated against the steel and aluminum tariffs.
The problem here is that Joe Biden will be reluctant to take a weaker stance. He recognises the importance of manufacturing in the US in relation to employment, and has published a ‘Made in America’ plan which will aim to keep those jobs there. While the GSP might be reinstated, a comprehensive trade deal that was supposed to be agreed upon during Trump’s term may continue to be elusive.
Biden has remained clear on his views on immigration. He understands the role that immigrants have played throughout the history of his country and the role they can continue to play. Added to that is the fact that his running mate is the daughter of an immigrant herself. Under Trump, the H-1B refusal rate for Indians went up from 6% to 25%, which mainly affected those working in IT. Biden will ease restrictions and restore some level of normalcy in this area and has also stated that those studying in the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) will receive preferential treatment in terms of a path to citizenship.
The Modi government has come under criticism from various international organisations over the last six years. This primarily has to do with religious intolerance towards minorities and the various human rights issues, be it in Kashmir or during the protests against CAA and NRC. Trump remained firm in not interfering, even as sections of his government were releasing reports condemning the situation in India.
It plays into Modi’s hands when the worlds biggest superpower remains silent on these issues as it serves to legitimize them to a certain extent. This is unlikely to be the case when Biden comes to office, especially since he will be joined by an Indian origin vice president. While Biden is not likely to directly interfere in India’s domestic problems, he may feel compelled to make statements criticisng the governments actions, much like his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama did when he visited India in 2015. This may affect Modi’s popularity amongst the diaspora and also among citizens in India, which could have an affect at the state and general elections.