India-US relations have evolved and only grown irrespective of which party is in the office -- Democrats or Republicans. With a Joe Biden-Kamala Harris win in the US Presidential elections, there could certainly be continuity in the Indo-US ties on various fronts. As the Vice President during the Barack Obama administration, Joe Biden played a critical role in the US-South Asia strategy.
Beginning on a positive note, Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated the duo for their "spectacular" victory.
"Congratulations @JoeBiden on your spectacular victory! As the VP, your contribution to strengthening Indo-US relations was critical and invaluable. I look forward to working closely together once again to take India-US relations to greater heights," Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted to Joe Biden
Congratulations @JoeBiden on your spectacular victory! As the VP, your contribution to strengthening Indo-US relations was critical and invaluable. I look forward to working closely together once again to take India-US relations to greater heights. pic.twitter.com/yAOCEcs9bN— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) November 7, 2020
PM Narendra Modi later congratulated US Vice President-elect Kamala Harris for her "pathbreaking" success in the US elections. PM Narendra Modi said, "Heartiest congratulations @KamalaHarris! Your success is pathbreaking, and a matter of immense pride not just for your chittis, but also for all Indian-Americans. I am confident that the vibrant India-US ties will get even stronger with your support and leadership."
Heartiest congratulations @KamalaHarris! Your success is pathbreaking, and a matter of immense pride not just for your chittis, but also for all Indian-Americans. I am confident that the vibrant India-US ties will get even stronger with your support and leadership.— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) November 7, 2020
Speaking to India Today Richard Rossow, Wadhwani Chair at US-India Policy Studies had said, "A Biden administration will likely maintain the positive momentum in areas like defense and counterterrorism. Trade will continue to cause friction. The three areas where I see the biggest change - less pressure on skilled immigration; renewed cooperation on climate change; and greater friction over U.S. commentary on India's domestic social issues."
INDO-US POLICY CONTINUUM
The two sides will see continuum and further strengthening on various fronts, particularly on the Indo-Pacific front. An initiative that first took shape during the Obama administration as a vision document on 'Asia Pacific' to counter Chinese inroads in the region.
In fact, a separate document was released after the 2015 Modi-Obama meet called 'U.S.-India Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region'. A separate document particularly aimed at 'South China Sea'.
While the nomenclature changed from "Asia-Pacific" to "Indo-Pacific", the substance and motives remain the same.
Michael Kugelman, Senior Associate at the Woodrow Wilson Center said, "India should be heartened by Joe Biden's win. He's a longstanding friend of India who will build on the momentum that the US-India relationship enjoyed during Donald Trump years. He will strengthen the security partnership and aim to expand the relationship into more areas beyond security."
He added, "This doesn't mean it'll all be roses for US-India relations under Joe Biden. His administration's probable willingness to criticize India on rights issues, a likely harder line on Russia, a possibility of Joe Biden pursuing some modest cooperation with China at a moment when India-China tensions are at a fever pitch-this all highlights some challenges that await."
While Joe Biden might not be as aggressive as Donald Trump on the China front, the stand on Beijing has taken such a dimensional turn that overturning the policy would hardly be in Washington's favour. Therefore, the US will continue to be tough on China.
RESET AND CHANGES
On the trade front, India Today TV has learned that the negotiations that were underway for a trade deal would have to be reworked and that could prolong the process. But, the low-hanging fruit to reset trade ties between India and the US would be to restore the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) status which allowed duty-free entry for up to $5.6 billion worth of annual exports to the US.
The Trump administration had revoked GSP citing lack of reciprocal market access. Until it was removed, India enjoyed preferential treatment by means of zero or reduced tariffs on 2,167 products in labour-intensive sectors like leather, jewellery, and engineering.
The two sides would also look at a comprehensive trade deal at a time when they recognise the need to create 'supply chain resilience' in wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
On the strategic front, there will be some relief for India when the Joe Biden administration revisits the Iran nuclear deal, abandoned by Donald Trump in 2018. Re-entering the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is one of Biden's foreign policy priorities, which would allow India to move fervently on the Chabahar projects and secure the strategic routes to Afghanistan, bypassing Pakistan.
A deal that the European signatories -- France, Germany, and the UK -- have been desperately trying to save.
"Also, the sharp differences between the two men on foreign policy more broadly will have implications for India. Biden, for example, wants a more conciliatory policy toward Iran-and that would help an Indian government that values its economic ties to Tehran and doesn't want to be encumbered with a tough US sanctions regime on Iran," Michael Kugelman said.
Paris climate agreement is another deal that is of great importance in fighting the problem of climate change.
Leaders across the globe have been talking about 'climate justice'. The US has an important role to play to allow developing nations a level playing field in tackling environmental challenges while at the same time, not losing out on development.
On November 5, the US officially left the Paris Agreement, three years after President Donald Trump announced he would leave the international climate change forum.
Joe Biden tweeted saying that his administration would join the accord within seventy-seven days of assuming office.
"Today, the Trump Administration officially left the Paris Climate Agreement. And in exactly 77 days, a Biden Administration will rejoin it," he tweeted.
Today, the Trump Administration officially left the Paris Climate Agreement. And in exactly 77 days, a Biden Administration will rejoin it. https://t.co/L8UJimS6v2— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) November 5, 2020
Like most analysts have said, while there would be a lot of positive momentum, the friction areas between PM Narendra Modi and the Biden-Harris administration would be on the human rights front.
Kamala Harris and members of her 'Samosa Caucus' (five Indian-American Congressman who formed the group), particularly Congresswoman Pramila Jayapala, have been critical of India's decision to revoke the special status of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370, followed by communication and internet restrictions placed in J&K and political detentions. The friction had reached such a fever pitch that External Affairs Minister (EAM) S Jaishankar refused to meet Jayapala during his visit to Washington DC last year.
There are also concerns regarding how the new Joe Biden-Kamala Harris administration would react to India's new rules regarding the funding of NGOs in India.
While there are areas of concern, they are mostly manageable, experts said. For now, the new administration will first look within to fix a lot of domestic issues starting from handling the Covid pandemic.
"It is time for America to unite and heal, It is time to put the anger and harsh rhetoric behind us and come together to rebuild our nation under the leadership of President-elect Biden and VP-elect Kamala Harris. Best days of America are ahead," said Ajay Bhutoria, National Finance committee member, 'Biden for President'.
Meanwhile, Indian-American physician Dr Vivek Murthy is expected to co-chair the coronavirus task force which President-elect Joe Biden is going to announce on Monday.
Murthy, 43, who originally hails from Karnataka, was appointed America's 19th Surgeon General by then president Barack Obama in 2014.