By Frank F Islam
2020 was a long and contentious year politically which ended with a win for Biden, America, and India. That is good news. The better news is that the best is yet to come.
Nearly three weeks after the historic presidential election, United States (US) President Donald Trump is yet to concede, clinging on to hope that he can somehow miraculously hold on to power despite losing by a huge margin. However, with even his Republican allies at state and local levels refusing to help him, there is no chance that Trump will succeed in his attempt to overturn the will of the people.
But, unfortunately, Trump’s unfounded accusations of election fraud and his refusal to concede have no doubt sullied the spirit of the American democracy, which has always prided itself on smooth and orderly transition of power. The outgoing president is also dragging down the Republican Party, whose leaders largely have stood by him.
The president has suffered defeats in a string of court cases — many of which were absurd and farcical — and even many GOP election officials in states and at local jurisdictions have refused angry demands via Twitter to nullify the election results. What these legal and political defeats prove is that the world’s oldest democracy is going to pass the most intense stress test it was subjected to thus far with flying colours.
A big example is that, despite the incumbent’s stonewalling, President-elect Joe Biden is at work, putting together teams and personnel that will form the core of his administration and crafting policies to tackle Covid-19 and revive the economy, two of his biggest election promises. The US business community and a number of world leaders have recognised Biden as the rightful winner. Among the global leaders who congratulated the president-elect was Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The presidential election has implications for India, due to its status as the world’s largest democracy, strategic imperatives and the special involvement of the Indian-American community electorally in the US this time around.
New Delhi was anxious about the election, especially after it provided platforms for Trump to deliver campaign speeches on two occasions in the past 15 months. Despite the presence of Kamala Harris, who is of Indian and African-American origin, on the Biden ticket, some in India were rooting for the president’s re-election because he did not oppose the government’s actions in Kashmir and the enactment of the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act.
There is no question that human rights would go back to being one of the centerpieces of the US foreign policy under the Biden administration. For this reason, some in in India are apprehensive about a Biden White House “meddling” in India’s “internal affairs.”
There is a consensus among objective observers in Washington, however, that no single issue will derail the bilateral ties between India and the US. In fact, ties will only strengthen. And this is because, under the Trump administration, India-US relations had become primarily transactional. While defence ties between the two countries continued on the trajectory of the Bush and Obama administrations, commercial ties took a step backward. Trump quarrelled with India publicly on a number of small trade issues that could have been better addressed privately through constructive negotiations among foreign policy experts. His foreign policy was largely been based on his whims and fancies. He routinely ignored the Department of State. Under the Biden administration, bilateral relations with India will go back to being institutionally-centered and subject-matter expert-driven.
Under the Biden presidency, the US will rejoin the Paris Agreement — which took effect on November 4, the day after the elections — and a series of other international accords and treaties, and rebuild the bridge with its North Atlantic Treaty Organization partners. India will benefit from the US once again taking an active role internationally.
Another aspect of this presidential elections that triggered a lot of interest in India was the significance and involvement of the Indian-American community. As has been widely reported, the community was openly courted by both parties. In terms of mobilisation and campaign donations, and now with Kamala Harris set to be sworn in as the first woman, African-American and Indian-American vice-president of the US on January 20, this election has been unprecedented in more ways than one.
Judging by the number of Indian-Americans Biden has included in various cabinet transition committees, one can expect a significant Indian-American presence in the administration. There are close to two-dozen Indian-Americans in the 500-member transition agency review teams. Three teams are led by Indian-Americans. Biden’s Covid-19 task force includes three Indian-Americans, including Vivek Murthy, who is a co-chair. Murthy, a former surgeon general of the US, is reportedly a candidate for the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Service. Other Indian-American names touted for top jobs include Stanford professor Arun Majumdar for the secretary of energy and former PepsiCo chief Indra Nooyi for the secretary of commerce.
2020 was a long and contentious year politically which ended with a win for Biden, the US, and India. That is good news. The better news is that the best is yet to come.