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Monday, April 12, 2021

US poll impact on India: Trump or Biden, whose win will matter to us?

One of the biggest and important elections of this decade is just a few weeks away. Who will assume office in the White House, Democratic Joe Biden or Republican Donald Trump once again? The world is speculating. We Indians are all aware of the personal bonhomie between present US President Trump and our Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Right from big rallies like Howdy Modi, Namaste Trump to the leaders occasional appreciative tweets, have given the Indo-US relationship a a major boost in the past few years. However, actual policy outcomes show that Trump’s approach to India and Indian-Americans has been short-sighted and counterproductive. Experts are divided in their opinion about whose win – Trump or Biden – will benefit India. And in this article, we shall discuss those issues.

Here’s a comparative analysis of the winning impact of the two leaders in 4 points

According to a report, “Trump’s zero-sum, winner-takes- all worldview collide with India’s priorities on trade, energy, defense, and immigration, and do not create a fertile ground for cooperation. A Joe Biden administration promises to do better.” We are familiar with the fact that as vice-president to Barack Obama from 2009 to 2017, Biden was a driving force of the administration’s foreign policy agenda. Biden played a key part in prioritising a strong partnership with India and his support for India extends back to his time in the Senate when he helped secure Congressional nod for the 2008 US-India civil nuclear deal.

1. Trade, commerce and energy

India and the US have a strong trade and commerce relationship which is worth over $142 billion. The countries may have long-standing disputes but the Obama-Biden administration worked very hard and systematically tried to overcome these issues. Eventually, the countries announced progress on several sectors, including intellectual property, bilateral investment and technology. The Obama-Biden administration also helped persuade India to sign on to the Paris Climate Accords and made climate change cooperation a huge part of their partnership.

But the Trump administration has ruined that inheritance. He has chosen to narrowly focus on the trade deficit in goods and imposed tariffs on Indian imports. This development ignores the whole spectrum of US-India relations, which includes services, foreign direct investment, energy, and defense sales. Trumps withdrew from the Climate Accords and so its promises made to India on clean energy cooperation were also abandoned. President Trump’s visit to India in February 2020 was big on optics but did not result in the trade deal that he had promised.

2. Immigration and visa challenges

This is another important issue for India. And a lot of Indias are looking forward to the elections in the US for this factor. In this sector, Trump has been far from helpful on this count. Trump’s approach to immigration has been mostly chaotic, along with burdensome and shifting rules. His administration has clamped down on pathways to legal immigration, including through education, work qualification and family ties, which are all avenues that have been majorly used by immigrants to the US from India.

India is the largest recipient of H1B visas, which allow US companies to employ overseas workers for specific jobs. Many US employers view Indians as valuable workers who can provide skills that are in short supply domestically. Till 2016, this front was unaffected and H1B visas category showed steady growth. But as per a report, the recent restrictions on this category have hit Indians hard. India is also the second-largest source of foreign students to the US. If we look at the the Trump administration, it has taken sharp aim at the F-1 student visa category. As a result, the number of new international students enrolling in US universities has gone down.

On the other hand, the Obama-Biden administration benefited Indian immigrants. It allowed spouses of some H1B visa holders to get work authorisation, helping to reduce the financial burden on families waiting to get green cards. Obama also proposed reforms that would streamline visa application process and offer more flexibility to Indians on student and work visas.

3. The US-India defense ties

The Obama-Biden government focused on developing a strong strategic partnership in defense, including cooperation on technology, military training with countries of mutual interest. The two nations renewed their defense framework agreement and Obama even declared India a major defense partner in 2015 soon after Modi’s massive win in India.

But if we look at the Trump administration, it has largely treated India as a cash register for American defense contractors. Trump pushed for defense sales, he has threatened to sanction India over its transactions with Russia. Such actions definitely show disrespect for India’s strategic autonomy. Trump has also withdrawn the US’s stabilizing role in the Asia-Pacific. This surely made China to be aggressive and India has been at the receiving end of this and paying the price. It is true that India and the US continue to work on common defense goals, but Trump has not been a reliable partner. A report says why India remains wary of getting too close to the US.

US poll India
Democratic vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris. Photo: Twitter

4. Can Biden bring positive changes for India?

It is expected that a Democratic administration will eb based on Biden’s long-standing support for strong US-India relations. His economic plan proposes to rejuvenate international trade rules to boost the US and its partners, including India. The Biden team’s focus on technology innovation can benefit Indian industry and Indian immigrants in the US. On the other hand, for immigration, as per a report, the Biden administration promises to be fair and systematic. Moreover, Biden has proposed a clear and strategic plan to restrict China’s influence in the Asia Pacific. India can be a necessary partner in those efforts.

Trump has focused narrowly on a few pet issues. They were mostly related to trade retaliation and defense sales. The friendship of Modi and Trump have not translated into sustained and strategic progress. Also, Trump has often taken steps that jeopardized the process of two countries working together. But as Senator and vice-president, Biden took steps to build a long-term US-India partnership.

To a major chunk of India, the Biden administration will result in more productive relations between the two countries. In a recent speech, Biden pledged to make a US-India strategic partnership a “high priority”, so Indians are very hopeful about it. The announcement of Kamala Harris as the vice-president is also another major boost to this entire saga. Now time will tell who would have the last laugh.

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