As I predicted in my article published in July Joseph R. (Joe) Biden got elected as the 46th President of the United States. True to his character, Mr. Trump is not going to easily concede his defeat. Although I do not agree with Mr. Trump that there was widespread fraud in the election, he has every right to seek vote recounts especially in the states where the difference in votes is not significant. The recounting is not infrequent and has been sought in the past by both Republicans and Democrats. This process could take weeks, however, I believe the legal process would be over much before January 20, 2021 when the new President is supposed to take the oath. I also believe the final outcome would not change.
Now the question is, “What is for India?” Before this question is answered, it would be interesting to make certain observations. Kamala Harris is the first woman to be the US Vice President (no woman has been President either). She is is a nonwhite and the first person of Indian heritage to become the Vice President. As per the Washington Post, after the election her first foreign call was to India to her uncle, Gopalan Balachandran, the brother of her mother Shyamalan Gopalan. As Prime Minister Modi tweeted, India is proud of her. We Indians, living in the USA, are very happy and proud that one of us became the Vice President, who is only a “heartbeat” away from being the President. Her husband, the first Jewish person, will be the first gentleman close to the White House.
There are three important areas involving the relationship between the two countries; Kashmir, China and business. Now what can India expect from Biden and Harris? Some Indians and Indian news media expressed concerns about their statements about Kashmir. First, it should be pointed out that Kamala is an American, and appropriately she will do what is best for the United States. Except for Barack Obama, all other Presidents were of European origin and they did what they believed was best for the United States and not for the European countries from where their forefathers immigrated to the United States. Mr. Obama, whose father was from Kenya, did not favor Kenya. The policies of the Biden/Harris government, especially with respect to foreign affairs, will be guided by the interest of the United States. There is no doubt Biden and Harris will not be like President Trump who had publicly stated, “I love India and Hindus”. Mr. Trump has appointed a number of Indian origin people to high positions in his administration; except one, all are Hindus. The exception was Nikki Hailey, who converted from Sikhism to Christianity. Kamala, raised as a Hindu by her mother, also became a Christian. Even Mr. Biden’s announced transition team and panel heads include at least four Indians, Dr. Rahul Gupta, Kiran Ahuja, Dr. Atul Gawande and Dr. Vivek Murthy. No matter who is the President of the United States, India and the Indians in the United States will do well. The personal rapport between the leaders of two countries may be helpful, however, contrary to the beliefs of Indian leaders, the relationship between two countries is primarily guided by the countries’ interest. Before the details of the new US government’s response to the issues mentioned above is discussed, it is important to briefly review the Indo-US relationship in context with the global political and economic situation which has changed significantly since the beginning of the 21st Century.
Until Mr. Carter became the President, there was not much interest in India. Mr. Carter did improve the relationship between the United States and India. After the dismantling of the Russian empire, China started emerging as a world economic and military power. This changed political situation required the US to start taking India more seriously as India is the only country which could rival China in Asia on the economic and military fronts. In the early 1980s, Senator Orin Hatch, a Republican from Utah, (for a long time the State of Utah was my client) approached me to arrange President Reagan’s meeting with Mrs. India Gandhi. Through the Ambassador of India. I was able to arrange a meeting and they met in Cancun, Mexico. President George H. W. Bush furthered the relation between the two countries. President Clinton, who had met Benazir Bhutto at Harvard University, became closer to Pakistan also, but he did not ignore India. When he announced his first visit to India, he also announced a visit to Pakistan. A number of Indians in the United States started lobbying to persuade Mr. Clinton not to visit Pakistan. Some of them asked me also to join the opposition, however, my answer was that I wanted Mr. Clinton to visit Pakistan so that he can notice the difference between the two countries. Mr. Clinton did visit both the countries and commented favorably to India about the differences in the two countries. Since then, not only he became a fan of India, he also started liking Indian cuisine. However, he continued to pressure India to settle the Kashmir issue with Pakistan. Junior George Bush was the first president who started taking a real interest in India. After the 9/11 terrorist attack on the USA, although the United States continued to use and fund Pakistan to quell Talibans in Afghanistan, he started trusting India more. During the US attack on Iraq, the US military planes, flying from their bases in the Philippines, used to refuel in India rather than in Pakistan. One US official stated, “The US does not trust Pakistanis to refuel its fighter jets.” In 2015, Mr. Barack Obama met Mr. Modi in Washington, D.C. and the business relationship between the two countries started blooming. President Trump, not only established a close personal relationship with Mr. Modi, he took the geopolitical and economic cooperation to new heights. His support for India, on the issues of Kashmir and China is unmatched. It is correct that neither the personal friendship nor the cooperation on other fronts would be the same during the Presidency of Biden, however, the current geopolitical and economic situation will continue to influence the relationship between the two countries.
Mr. Biden was raised in New Castle, Delaware, which along with all major Delaware Cities have been my clients since 1972 and are still my clients. I had known Mr. Biden since 1975 when he first became a US Senator. During Mr. Clinton’s presidency, Senator Biden was the Chairman of the US Foreign Affairs Committee. I once asked Mr. Biden, “Joe what is the US ‘real position on Kashmir?” His answer was, “In spite of the public statements, the United States supports India on Kashmir as it did not want Kashmir to go to Pakistan and become a haven for terrorists.” Then I asked, “Joe can India trust you?” He answered, “Of course Jay”. One time I asked Mr. Biden, ”Why the United States pressurize India on some issues?” His answer was, “Indians get pressurized and if India does not get pressurized, what the United States can do? India is not Iraq or Afghanistan that we can bomb India.”
There may be some pressure on Biden’s administration to insist upon India to reach a compromise with Kashmiris and Pakistan, his administration is not going to go beyond some strong statements at most. If India refuses to yield and in fact, I have insisted upon Mr. Modi not to discuss Kashmir any time at any place with anyone and he has started doing so, neither the US nor anyone else in the world would or can force India to change the situation in Kashmir and India is not going to do so. World does not care about Kashmir, CAA and RNC, only India and Pakistan do.
With respect to China, Biden’s administration will soften its attitude towards China and will try to ease Trump’s restrictions on China’s business however, the US cannot afford to ignore China’s increasing military and economic power and her threatening posture in the Asia-Pacific region and loss of American jobs to China will compel the United States to remain vigilant about China. President Obama started to shift American’s Europe-centric focus towards India and Asia-Pacific region, Mr. Trump increased this focus and got Australia and Japan involved with America’s efforts to contain China.
In the interest of the USA, the Biden administration will continue to increase the business relationship with India which will include encouraging Indian companies to increase investments in the USA. This could also result in reducing restrictions on H-1B visas. However, in view of high unemployment in the USA, the number of H-1B visas may not be increased much.
Finally, I strongly believe, the economic and political cooperation between the two countries will increase and will be on more solid ground than it has been in the past as it is in the interest of both the countries. India should ignore and not get rattled by rhetoric of some persons and officials in the Biden administration. I am also sure that Mr. Modi will click with both Biden and Kamala. Recently, Mr. Biden called Prime Minister Modi, one of the very few world leaders, which affirms the relationship between the countries will continue to be strong.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.