DONALD Trump notoriously embraced ‘strongmen’ leaders like Jair Bolsonaro, Vladimir Putin and Narendra Modi throughout his premiership – but it’s Biden that could move Washington closer to the controversial Indian Prime Minister.
Trump and Modi used one another to improve their own optics during difficult times in the past few years.
While Modi spoke in Houston to thousands of Indian-Americans as Trump sought to shore up his support in Texas in November 2019, the US President was invited to India amid the Kashmir dispute and demonstrations against a new citizenship law.
Both leaders ruled with a reactionary outlook, keen to implement their nationalist ideals.
Biden is more of a traditional “statesman”, according to former senior policy advisor to Barack Obama Sohini Chatterjee – but he could still strike gold in New Delhi.
She told Redaction Politics: “Trump’s foreign policy was mostly short-sighted and transactional.
“His understanding of the role of strategic alliances, especially with democratic nations, was radically distinct from any other President in US history.
“While the relationship with India as a strategic partner was thankfully maintained during Trump’s time in office, it was not part of a coherent or robust strategic engagement based on common principles to face critical trans-boundary threats.
“President-Elect Biden is a markedly different figure – a statesman with experience in crafting and maintaining alliances with historic US allies and democratic nations.
“Modi should be reassured that this era of unpredictable and reactive US foreign policy is nearly over and take the opportunity to work with the Biden Administration to develop a more sustainable strategic engagement and champion democratic principles in the multilateral community.”
Last month Modi immediately noted the historic election of Kamala Harris as a “matter of great pride…for members of the vibrant Indian-American community”.
Chatterjee said that while her background will not improve bilateral relations by itself, Harris is a symbol of the diversity that exists in the US.
“Historically, bilateral engagements – for good reason – are not merely transactional or based merely on the short-term goodwill or relationships between two particular figures,” she said.
“VP Harris is a true example of the extraordinary diversity that exists in the US; she also – through her Indian heritage – is deeply aware of the rich history and culture of India.
“President-Elect Biden has also worked closely with India throughout his long career in the Senate and as VP.
“Still, the Biden-Harris Administration, I hope, will craft a bilateral dialogue that responds not to any one political figure but rather to the immense geopolitical and trans-boundary challenges that face both India and the US – global climate change, pandemics, extreme poverty, violent extremism, and burgeoning threats of authoritarianism and populism.”
Modi – who had his US visa revoked and was boycotted by US officials for his alleged role in the 2002 Gujurat riots – had long been shunned by Washington.
He was welcomed back into the fold under Trump – and Biden appears ot have no qualms with continuing to keep him in the picture.
Sohini Chatterjee is on the Faculty of Columbia University, Senior Associate at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, and Legal Advisor to Independent International Legal Advocates.
She previously served as a Senior Policy Advisor in the Administration of President Barack Obama and has advised numerous foundations, governments, and think tanks on foreign policy and national security issues.
Her recent articles include: https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/10/30/why-inclusion-is-important-for-u-s-foreign-policy/ and https://nationalinterest.org/feature/cataclysmic-great-power-challenge-everyone-saw-coming-167986 and podcast: https://www.conversationsix.com/profile/WeHXJc8rYtNYGCMvd
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