Turbulent Times Ahead For India-US Relations

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By Susheel Silvano, Edited By Adam Rizvi, TIO:

At the stroke of The Noon on January 20, 2021, America saw its 46th President: 78-year old Joe Biden.

Along with him was sworn in Kamala Harris, first Lady Vice-president.

The Inauguration ceremony was a highly scaled-down one as it was held under the deathly shadow of Corona and the frightening happenings at Capitol Hill on January 6 by the instigated and highly violent supporters of outgoing President, Donald Trump.

Against tradition, Trump, who was not seen at any public function since January 6, did not attend Biden’s assumption of power, becoming the First President not to welcome his successor into power in 150 years, by all means, a dubious record. He became the sixth US head of state overall to do so during the last 231 years or since April 30, 1789, the date that marks the swearing-in of the country’s first-ever head of state, General George Washington at the Federal Hall of New York, which happened to serve as the nation’s capital at that time.

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According to the National Public Radio (NPR), a privately and publicly funded non-profit media organization in Washington, while most outgoing US Presidents have appeared on the inaugural platform with their successor, five did not.

These five US Presidents who opted out of these moments of glory include the likes of John Adams (left Washington rather than attend the 1801 inauguration of his worst political foe, Thomas Jefferson), his father John Quincy Adams (had also left town, unwilling to be present for the 1829 inauguration of his successor Andrew Jackson), Martin Van Buren (was not present for the 1841 inauguration of William Henry Harrison for personal reasons), Andrew Johnson (was busy conducting a final cabinet meeting rather than attend the 1869 inauguration of Ulysses Grant) and Woodrow Wilson (had decided to remain inside the Capitol Building during the 1921 inauguration of Warren Harding due to frail health).

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Traditionally, both the outgoing President and the New One come together for the ceremony to display beyond any reasonable doubt that the transfer of power is amicable and a smooth transition.

Biden’s inaugural was held under an impermeable security cover, the like of which has not been seen since 9/11. Almost 20,000 National Guards were on duty to thwart any eventuality in the backdrop of the January 6 unsavory” insurrection “.

Unwept. Unhonoured and Unsung/ Trump left the White House in the morning in a helicopter for the Andrew Air Base en route to his home in Florida.

For us, India and Indians, Trump no longer matters. What matters is Biden’s attitude towards us in the coming days.

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Both Biden and Harris are no ardent lovers of India. Their feelings were aggravated when Indian PM Narendra Modi committed the mammoth diplomatic blunder of hosting an Rs.100- crore jamboree “Namaste Trump” and announcing in front of a captive crowd ” abkii baar Trump Sarkar”.

It’s an accepted principle of international diplomacy that no country interferes in the political affairs of any other country. Modi, as is he won’t, brazenly transgressed this principle.

The mutual-admiration relationship of Trump and Modi to influence PIOs in America will badly affect Indo-US relations, to begin with.

Hence, the diplomatic match between America and India is not starting at Love All. India is starting with a huge disadvantage. To add to the gravity of the situation, the Serve is with America. India, at best, can return the Serve successfully to save a point.

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PART 2

Writing in The Tribune, K.P.Nayar, Strategic Analyst, said the US cannot be seen as doing anything about charges that rights and freedoms are at risk under a ‘Hindu nationalist’ government, in J&K after the abrogation of Article 370 and nationwide protests after the enactment of the Citizenship Amendment Act.

To satisfy this requirement of political correctness, responses from Washington to such charges are expected to be predictable, but inconsequential. The Congressional Research Service (CRS), for example, may issue a damning indictment of how liberties have been trampled upon in India and about the pressures on freedom of the Press. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), in its next annual report, may come down even harder on India over its treatment of religious minorities and loudly urge the US State Department to sanction BJP leaders whose actions promote majoritarianism.

The reality is that more often than not, CRS reports are not read even by US legislators, although the mandate of the CRS is to ‘provide policy and legal analysis to committees and Members of both the House and Senate, regardless of party affiliation’. As for the USCIRF, a US government commission created by an Act of Congress, it is not taken seriously by anyone who matters in Washington. But administrations often use the body to appease religious lobbies complaining of persecutions by foreign governments.

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In India’s case, any damage to Indo-US relations on the human rights issue will be more of perception than reality,

According to former Indian Ambassador to Washington DC Arun Singh, who interacted with many Obama-Biden team members who are now in the Biden-Harris team, a lot of people in India, the US, and elsewhere have been trying to figure out how the Biden Administration would respond to the China challenge. [Right now, reports of the construction of an entire village 4.5 kilometers inside the transgressed territory in Arunachal Pradesh by the Chinese has greatly charged and hurt the feelings of Indians. Insult has been added to injury with the steadfast silence on the part of Indian PM Narendra Modi on the issue].

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Biden and people around him have said the situation today is very different from the situation in 2016, China follows unfair trade practices and is a major technological rival to the US… So I would believe there will be some nuancing because they will want to show that they are different from the Trump Administration. But Biden would be more effective on China because Biden has said that he will bring allies and partners to have a common approach towards China. Although the US under Trump had taken a very aggressive approach towards China, the Europeans didn’t follow it because he had decried alliances. But if the US wants an effective policy on China, it needs to bring its allies in Europe and Asia on a common platform to respond to the China challenge.

On the US and India-Russia

This is going to be an important issue. For India, our relationship earlier with the Soviet Union and now Russia is very important. The Soviet Union gave us military support, military supplies, political support, at a time when it was not available from the West, be it the US or others. And even today, almost 60% of our defense inventory is of Russian origin and there are certain areas where we get technologies from Russia at competitive prices that are not available elsewhere…

[Under] CAATSA (Countering American Adversaries through Sanctions Act), purchase of major defense systems from Russia could become sanctioned, and the S-400 is a case in point… India’s case is different and from the various comments and writings that have come out in the public domain, it has been made clear that the US would be making a mistake if it sanctions India for the S-400… If the US then goes ahead and sanctions India for something, it will affect its image as a reliable partner and will impact negatively on the evolution of the US-India relationship. The US needs to keep that in mind. I think it was because of this that when the US Congress passed the CAATSA Bill originally, there was no provision for a waiver — the US administration had no capacity to give waiver from the sanctions — but the then administration lobbied in Congress to give the President waiver provisions. So I would hope and expect that if the situation reaches a certain point, whoever is the US President would exercise that waiver and not impose sanctions on India.

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About the Biden Administration’s likely approach on Kashmir, CAA and NRC

We have to recognize that US leaders will base their politics based on their compulsions, their constituent interests and, therefore, they will take a certain position on issues that they articulate as human rights, based on how it plays out for them and their voters…..people in the Biden camp have said that any differences with India on issues related to human rights would be based on a discussion among friends. My sense is that India takes its decisions based on its interests; we don’t have to be unnecessarily insecure or on the defensive related to decisions that we take. The US has its challenges, systemic racism… all societies face challenges. Therefore, any India-US discussion or dialogue related to human rights should be as a dialogue among friends who are trying to understand each other.

During the time of the Obama Administration, there were many firsts. In 2009, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was invited as the first state visitor of the Obama Administration. In the US, state visits are a very clear signal… and President Obama wanted to signal that there was going to be continuity from the time of President Bush, from the time of the civil nuclear cooperation agreement… And then they also declared India a major defense partner — no other country in the world has this status, and it was done deliberately because India is not an ally and yet they wanted to give India the same level of technology access as their closest allies and partner.

Vice-President Biden had come to India in 2013 and, speaking at the Mumbai Stock Exchange, he said that he’d like to reiterate what President Obama had said, that the India-US relationship would be the defining relationship of the 21st century. And he spoke about what he had said in 2006, that by 2020, he wants the US-India relationship to be the closest. And we are in 2020 now. So I would say that given the fact that many in the Obama-Biden team are going to continue in the Biden-Harris team, I am very confident based on my interactions when I was there that the India-US relationship will continue to strengthen over the next four years.”

Not all Indians. Especially India’s Foreign Minister Shankar. there are several reasons for that but the most obvious ones stem from Biden-Harris open pro-Pakistan backing on the Kashmir issue.

Kamala Harris has been a vocal and sharp critic of India’s Kashmir policy, especially after the revocation of Article 370 and the special status that was granted to the union territory.

Even during her electoral campaign. on two occasions. she was asked about her stance on the Kashmir issue, and unsurprisingly she backed the demand for international intervention, specifically the US.

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In one of her interviews, she stated ‘We have to remind Kashmiri’s that they are not alone in the world. We are keeping track of the situation. There is a need to intervene if the situation demands.’

The Democrats have generally been less inclined towards India than Republican Presidents, for a variety of reasons generally related to America’s geostrategic interests and Pakistan’s proclivity towards fostering an economic and diplomatic model that is reliant on military and humanitarian aid, investments, and hand-outs.

Hence, the coming days may not be all smooth sailing and may be made to pay heavily for its “ Abki Baar Trump Sarkar” monumental diplomatic blunder.

Compiled and Curated by Maham Abbasi.

Sushil Silvano

Mr. Sushil Silvano, our special correspondent is a celebrated veteran Journalist and Author and is currently based in Mumbai, India. He is the National Secretary of the Indian Journalists Union, an affiliate of the "International Federation of Journalists". He strongly believes in developing awareness through the power of Media and has chaired the Mumbai Chapter of Public Relations Council of India (PRCI) and is currently the Chairman of the Lucknow Chapter of PRCI.

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