How will the presidential election impact US-India relations?

·3-min read

Among the emerging world powers keenly following the dramatic 2020 US election is India. Given the planet's two largest democracies share strong economic, cultural and strategic ties, the Trump-Biden contest has generated a lot of interest among Indian policy makers and the general public.

Pranay Kotasthane, an analyst at the Takshashila Institution in Bangalore, says the election’s impact on the Indo-US relationship has to be viewed through the prism of China, which “remains the biggest strategic challenge for both the US and India”.

“Whether it’s a Democratic establishment or a Republican one, there is a bi-partisan consensus that the Chinese threat needs to be countered,” he says.

India and China are involved in a tense standoff following deadly military clashes earlier this year. The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defence Mark Esper recently visited India, agreeing to share geospatial satellite and sensor intelligence with India.

Manoj Joshi, of the Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation, also contends that in the case of a Biden win, the US will not change its approach towards China. “I think the die has already been cast, meaning that the US policy towards China has been shifted by the Trump administration in a decisive direction. I don’t think there is any going back,” Joshi says.

More cordial relations

However, Joshi reckons Biden coming to power could mean that the relationship between the new US President and Indian Prime Minister won’t be as exaggerated as it was during Trump’s time. “Trump and Modi have a similar kind of personality. In Biden’s case, it will be more proper. The relationship will remain good, but it may not go beyond a point,” he says.

Joshi says the Indian administration might prefer Trump over Biden. “There has always been a problem with the Democrats, who tend to be preachy and raise questions over certain issues like human rights, whereas the Republicans don't raise such questions and take a realist viewpoint of the world,” Joshi says.

He also points out that landmark deals (such as the Indo-US nuclear deal) and foundational agreements on military cooperation between the two countries were signed under the Republican administration.

One area that could see a shift is immigration. “If Biden wins, the new administration will be positive on this count. There are a lot of people from India who have gone to the US to work, to set up companies and many people from the US have come here too," Kotasthane says.

"However, this flow was starting to come under question due to the rhetoric of immigration (by Trump) and talk that the US was going to getting stricter.”

Under a Democratic establishment, this could change, Kotasthane says. “It’s an important question for a lot of Indian entrepreneurs in the technology sector.”

Status quo will continue

How will a change in the US administration impact India’s policy on Pakistan? Joshi doesn’t see much happening on that front. “India’s policy has been to simply ignore Pakistan," he says. "The Pakistani proxy jihadists keep on planning and conducting attacks. But there is no dialogue between India and Pakistan.”

Regardless of who wins, the two countries will recognise the need for each other in counting a common adversary in China. “Both the administrations will be pragmatic enough in establishing a good rapport,” Kotasthane says.

The US presidential election has also elicited plenty of interest among the general public in India. According to Kotasthane, this is due to the deep social links between the two countries.

“The election is being closely followed here," he says. "I am amazed by the knowledge and interest Indians have in the US election. We have an important state election going on in the country but a lot of focus and discussion has been on the US."