Jitters in New Delhi’s corridors of power

By Dr Jumma Khan Marri

With President Trump having lost the election, there is a growing sense of uncertainty and trepidation in the corridors of power in New Delhi.

The reasons are obvious. Indian PM Modi invested heavily in Trump’s election campaign. Over the last four years, a close personal chemistry developed between President Trump and PM Modi which became a defining feature of US-India relations. Modi held a royal ‘Namaste Trump’ reception when he visited India, while at the “Howdy Modi” rally in Texas in September 2019, Trump hailed Modi as one of “America’s greatest, most devoted and most loyal friends”.

Kindred spirits, both Trump and Modi thrived on the politics of exclusion and pursued a far-right agenda. Modi ignored the impending COVID crisis and invited Trump and his family to India and organised a massive rally in Ahmedabad for him in the last week of February 2020. This was an opportunity for Trump to show to American voters his global popularity as well as to give a strong message to Indian origin voters in the USA to support him in the election. There are 1.2 million Indian-origin American voters. When Modi had travelled to Houston, Texas, he gave a call ‘Ab ki baar, Trump sarkar’ to his supporters, which was an alteration of his own campaign slogan. The Trump camp even released a video at the Republican National Convention a year later, which claimed Modi’s ‘Ab ki baar, Trump sarkar’ call as an endorsement of Trump.

Besides Modi’s open endorsements, the Modi-supporting Hindutva organisations in the US, the Overseas Friends of BJP-USA and US-HSS (Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, the overseas counterpart of the RSS) were at the forefront of supporting and contributing to Trump’s election campaign.

As part of his deal with Modi, Trump remained completely silent on the plight of minorities in India and erosion of political rights in Kashmir under the BJP government. The Trump administration did not also take the Modi regime to task when the US Commission on International Religious Freedom in its various reports strongly criticised the deteriorating religious freedom in India. Even the CIA classification of two RSS affiliated organisations as ‘militant religious outfits’ in 2018 did not persuade the Trump administration to question the Modi government for promoting Hindu majoritarianism. Trump remained unmoved on the gross violation of human rights in Kashmir despite bipartisan criticism of Indian actions by the US lawmakers.

With Trump gone, the honeymoon days for Modi seem to be over. Joe Biden will be a different kind of president. It is expected that Biden’s policies will be more mature and balanced in dealing with foreign friends and he will anchor his policies more firmly in the hallowed Democratic party tradition of upholding human rights the world over. The change in the White House will surely force Modi to have a second look at his policy of oppressing the Muslims and other minorities at home. According to some analysts, the reign of terror let loose by Modi in IIOJ&K would attract greater critical response from the US.

It is relevant to add here that Kamala Harris, in the context of human rights abuse in Kashmir, said last year that “abusers will convince those they abuse that nobody cares, and nobody watching and nobody pays attention, which is a tool of an abuser.” Modi and his Hindutva colleagues fear that in a Biden administration, they will now be taken to task on human rights issues. Clearly, a Democratic President will be under pressure from within the party to take seriously the threat to peace posed by the BJP-RSS government’s repressive policies at home and aggressive posture in the South Asian region.

The election of Kamala Harris should leave no doubt in Modi’s mind that he will not be able to get away with his transgressions any more. In this regard, the collapsing Indian economy further limits Modi’s bargaining options. Another likely development is greater Pak-US convergence of interest in Afghanistan in the context of the ongoing peace process. This will totally disrupt India’s clever game plan to create trouble in the region. This conclusion is based on the fact that in the past Biden adopted a very balanced approach on issues relating to Afghan peace and security of South Asia.

Some observers are of the view that the Biden administration will actively consider putting US relations with China on a more stable footing. Trump’s truculent China policy suited Indian designs of dominating the region but things may change now. As opposed to Trump, Biden may take a more conciliatory approach with Beijing on various issues, including the Ladakh border tensions and climate emergency.

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