Biden administration must ‘seize opportunity’ to hold Modi to account

JOE Biden has a unique opportunity to work with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on human rights and hold him to account, a former Obama policy adviser has told Redaction Politics.

Outgoing President Donald Trump – who was extremely close to his Indian counterpart – rarely brought up the issues of Kashmir, internal dissent or controversial anti-Muslim legislation.

It is thought that, given his criticism of some of Modi’s moves in the past, Joe Biden will be more effective in holding him to account, despite the pleasantries between the two after November’s election.

Last month Biden’s transition team stated: “The president-elect noted that he looks forward to working closely with the prime minister on shared global challenges, including containing COVID-19 and defending against future health crises, tackling the threat of climate change, launching the global economic recovery, strengthening democracy at home and abroad, and maintaining a secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific region.”

The exclusion of human rights from that statement – even amid reports of the state suppressing mass farmers’ protests – should not necessarily worry progressives, however.

Sohini Chatterjee, a former senior policy adviser to Barack Obama, told Redaction Politics: “Human rights should be among the most critical messages for all democracies, particularly with a rise in authoritarianism globally.

“India and the US are democracies and should once again champion key democratic principles, human rights, and pluralism.

“Both countries should seize this opportunity to stand up for the marginalized and oppressed.

“I hope that both countries will speak out on the global stage for basic human rights and work to safeguard rights in their own nations and globally; when democracies are silent about or even tarnish the idea of human rights, the world becomes much less safe.”

READ MORE: Biden can win-over Modi’s India better than Trump ever could, claims Obama policy adviser

Aakar Patel, former head of Amnesty International in India, told Al Jazeera that Biden’s administration would “make a difference” because of progressive rising stars within the Democratic party keen to hold Modi to account.

A Biden campaign document said the administration would not back down from confronting human rights abuses in Kashmir, for example.

It read: “In Kashmir, the Indian government should take all necessary steps to restore rights for all the people of Kashmir.  Restrictions on dissent, such as preventing peaceful protests or shutting or slowing down the Internet, weaken democracy.”

Both Biden and VP Kamala Harris have previously raised concerns over the situation in Kashmir.

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Trump also shared geopolitical interests with Modi – most notably, a desire to curb China’s rise.

India thrived during the 45th President’s term, including receiving support over border tensions with China.

With Biden thought to be less hawkish on China – and instead use ‘soft power’ to counter any threat instead of confronting Beijing – the President-elect may lose some of the political capital that Trump had with Modi.

READ MORE: Biden must focus on soft power instead of military threat to overcome China

“The US-China relationship cannot be dismissed and must be repaired; it is critical for geopolitical stability in the Asia-Pacific and writ large,” Chatterjee told Redaction Politics.

“However, India is also a key strategic partner and the US-India relationship can certainly flourish in the next four years under a Biden administration.

“My hope is that these two extraordinary and diverse democracies will together work closely not only to face critical and burgeoning transnational challenges – and aim to lead on defense, climate change, public health, and cybersecurity; I also very much hope that they will work together to elevate democratic principles globally, which is desperately needed, in an increasingly dangerous world.”

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: and and the podcast: 

Featured Image: The White House @Flickr

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