India has never been a factor nor she really mattered in the U.S. elections ever since I moved to the U. S. in 1978 and began to follow American politics. Today, India under Modi leadership is emerging as a global influencer and it matters who gets elected in the 2020 Presidential election. I raise the issue if India is ready for Biden Presidency because I suspect that India is putting all her eggs in an only basket of Trump. In my view, the contest between Biden and Trump is the most contentious in modern history. The election propaganda is ridden with conspiracy theories never heard before.
The pandemic which knows or favors neither candidate is being politicized due to very divergent views held by Trump in violation of the world view. Even after being tested positive, Trump is not humbled to embrace and publicly promote wearing the mask and social distancing as good life-saving strategies against COVID 19 infection. The October surprise of Trump getting tested positive just about 4 weeks before the election may change the outcome for the better (sympathy votes for Trump) or worse (Trump may be voted down because he refused to follow credible scientific advice to protect human lives against coronavirus). Today, the U.S. remains highly polarized between the left- and right-wing voters with the potential for either candidate winning by a thin margin. That raises an unprecedented but strong possibility of a post-election legal challenge as it is already suggested by the incumbent President Trump.
To my pleasant surprise, the Indian American electorate, although relatively small in numbers (merely about 1% of the total electorate), is visibly involved in electioneering which is decidedly the good news. There is a growing shift in their political ideology from being traditionally Democrats to supporting Trump. Reportedly, 77% of Indian Americans voted for Hillary Clinton and only 16% for Trump in 2016 unlike the Asian Americans at large voting 69% and 25%, respectively. No one knows for sure but the Indian American votes are likely to increase in favor of Trump in 2020. Most Indian Americans live in heavily Democratic areas like California and the Northeast who are organizing strong and well-orchestrated support for Trump and promoting him beyond those States.
Even Minnesota, where I live, is experiencing a wave in favor of Trump because of outside influencers. I myself have experienced the strong pressure and arm twisting to vote for Trump otherwise being labeled anti-Hindu, anti-Modi, anti-India, and worse by the die-hard Trump supporters. I am still an undecided voter and see no reason to rush into making my decision public. I surmise that there is a direct influence of Indian political leadership in the U.S. communities through Web-based discussions and presentations about how Indian diaspora should exercise their vote which clearly points to President Trump.
Thinking of the U.S. election outcome in India’s context, let us review a few facts and the “firsts” which, I believe, are hugely influencing the political ideology of Indian Americans. Let us first acknowledge Modi’s uncanny ability and style of leadership in forging a friendship with the world leaders including the U.S. This is a significant factor that India is visibly taking a keen interest in the U.S. elections. The additional “firsts” include:
(a) Prime Minister Modi used Tweet diplomacy in inviting President Obama for India’s Republic Day parade in January 2015, the first-ever attended by a sitting U.S. Presiden
(b) President Trump traveled to Houston during the “Howdy Modi” event in September 2019 to greet and welcome the just reelected Prime Minister Modi (for the second term). It was the first time that a sitting President would travel outside Washington to greet an Indian leader.
(c) The announcement by Modi in Houston, “Ab ki Baar: Trump Sarkar” (This time: Trump government) was highly unusual. I vividly recall being surprised by this uncharacteristic public support by Modi for Trump but I did not read too much into it then. Now I realize that the slogan was meant to influence the thought process and indirectly hinting how the 50,000 American Indians in the audience should vote in the next U.S. election. It was somewhat premature for Modi to go that far because we had no idea of the likely candidate from the Democratic party. This was the first time that India made an open commitment to Trump, perhaps a political suicide should the outcome be different.
(d) Houston event was the largest-ever gathering with a foreign political leader in the U.S. I believe, President Trump was attracted to the event to gain the support of the Indian American votes in the 2020 election with Modi’s endorsement which he did. Houston, the home to the largest number of Indian Americans in Texas, was a natural choice for Modi and Trump alike. Modi wanted to woo wealthy Indian diaspora to invest in India and Trump was motivated to sway traditional Democrat-leaning Indian Americans to vote for him. Only time will judge if they both will succeed.
(e) President Trump traveled to India in February 2020. Modi obliged Trump by greeting him outside India’s capital and having him address a gathering of more than 100,000, the largest crowd ever under one roof for a visiting foreign dignitary. Once again, Modi got significant political mileage from Trump’s visit when he publicly supported Modi policies and political leadership despite the worst riots in Delhi opposing the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) at the behest of almost all opposition parties and anti-Hindu elements.
The above “firsts” are important in the context of the 2020 elections and to addressing the question we are discussing. While the political relationship between India and the United States is natural because both are thriving democracies, there have been ups and downs in different administrations. However, the current relationship between Modi and Trump is a strong political nexus motivated, in part, due to the geopolitical demands and to support each other’s political agenda. The unwavering support of Trump against global terrorism, particularly, clamping Pakistan for harboring terrorism, brought India and U.S. closer together among other things. Trump has tacitly supported India’s removal of Article 370 in Kashmir. Trump’s administration has supported India in strengthening her defense capabilities and has held joint military exercises. But most important is the current anti-China sentiment in Trump White House due to COVID19 affecting the U.S. economy during the election year. Other factors include the burgeoning trade deficit between the two countries, allegedly China stealing America’s intellectual property, and China’s ambitious expansionist policies threatening the U.S. leadership. This necessitated that the U.S. finds a stronger political ally in Asia. This is where India enters on the geopolitical map as a very strong contender.
Why India? Because India with a population of 1.3 billion, including the largest number of “youth,” is the huge consumer market for the U.S. India with the well-educated workforce is an ideal place to relocate manufacturing away from China which will be facilitated under India’s red carpet and expedited approval policies under Modi. India is also in need of military hardware to stand ready for the continued threat of aggression by her neighbors, both China and Pakistan. What I am driving at is that the U.S., irrespective of the election outcome, must strengthen relations with India for political and economic reasons as well as to groom the strong Indian American diaspora for future leadership. It is no secret that Indian Americans are a very talented and the highest-earning ethnic group in America with dozens of CEOs of Indian origin of well-known companies. The second and third-generation children are already ahead of their immigrant parents who are beginning to emerge as leaders both in local and national politics as well as in all other professions.
India with Biden versus Trump: It is no secret among Biden circles that India and Indian Americans under Modi’s leadership are rallying for Trump in an organized way. This will remain a soar point for Biden and thus mending relations with him will take time even with Modi’s charm and amiable personality. One can surmise that Biden as the Vice President during Obama Presidency may have been a neutral entity but not a visible friend of India. It is no surprise because most Vice Presidents serve as a shadow of the President. Thus, there are more questions than answers about Biden’s policy vis a vis India? Would Obama come to the rescue in restoring relations with India? Would the longstanding Democrat-leaning powerful Indian Americans have the capacity and power to influence a good relationship between Modi and Biden? What will be Biden’s policy toward China who is reportedly supporting Biden for Presidency which may reverse the geopolitical situation in favor of China? Reportedly, one of the key advisors in the Biden campaign is of Pakistan descent who is perhaps influencing Biden’s thinking about the region.
If Trump wins in November not much may change at least in the immediate future. Having said that, I am still not sure how much Trump can be trusted because his Presidency has been all about making “deals” and not using diplomacy. Generally, he has put his own interests and image first followed by his family members and personal business interests. The focus on America’s trade, economy, and Americans came last at the cost of foreign policy despite his campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.” He is known to be an uncharacteristic President who conducts Tweet diplomacy rather than following the decency and decorum inherent in America’s Presidency. If elected, this will be his second and final term making him even more arrogant, ruthless, confrontational, and using all means possible to tighten business practices, trade, immigration, and foreign policy measures against any country including India when necessary. Trump’s anti-immigration policies are also hurtful for NRIs and India as a nation because the NRIs have been a tremendous resource for the Foreign Exchange Reserve. I have often heard that business and ethics do not mix which is well signified by President Trump. Presidential historians will be busy analyzing Trump more like a “deal maker” and less of a diplomat in the years to come.
Undoubtedly, Modi as an astute, polished, and experienced politician himself and India’s Foreign Minister, a former career diplomat, have the requisite know-how and competence to work with the next President of the United States. They are perhaps already engaged with Biden and his team behind the scene ever since he was the chosen Democratic candidate. If not, let us hope it is not too late to initiate mending and building relations with Biden and gain his trust through diplomacy and persuasion. If we hope and want the nations to coexist in peace and harmony, it is the geopolitical necessity that China be contained at all costs. In that case, the U.S. needs India as much as India needs the U.S. whether it is Biden or Trump in the White House.