In 1990s, when Bill Clinton charmed his way to US presidency, globalisation aided by the Internet was the defining moment. In 2000, it was the “problems of a new century” and terrorism. George Bush Junior swayed the US presidential polls. In 2008, Barack Obama came because the US -- and so the world -- was in the grip of an unprecedented economic meltdown. In 2016, China had become a neo-colonial power and terrorism a bigger menace. The US wanted to make America great again. Seasoned businessman and inexperienced politician Donald Trump defeated a veteran, Hillary Clinton to occupy the White House.
All these US presidential elections had much at stake for India bilateral, global, geostrategic and economic. India’s stake is always high in a US election, which rarely debates India while deciding its winner. Two reasons for India’s high stake in a US presidential election are: the intricate relationship of the world and India with the US in all interdependent affairs, and the outflow of Indians to the US for personal and national economic progress.
Hence, the current Donald Trump versus Joe Biden fight for the US presidency too is a high-stake contest for India. This election is additionally historical as it is being held in the middle of a pandemic that is forcing the thinkers and strategists to find new ways to shape the post-Covid-19 world.
The issues that concern India are: China’s behaviour as an unbridled power, inward-looking US policies, the direction of climate change strategies and terrorism.
China is now the new colonial power in the world, particularly under its current President Xi Jinping. Chinese neo-colonial ambitions include both territorial including maritime and economic bossism in the world. India, being its immediate neighbour, has, therefore, to deal with an ongoing military standoff for over six months, unflinching support to terror fomenting regime in Pakistan and the Chinese attempts to turn India’s friends-in-the-neighbourhood into rivals and foes (Nepal, Bangladesh, Maldives).
Till the presidency of Barack Obama, the US admitted that it had a role to ensure rule-based world order. The emphasis ensured that China felt hesitant in asserting itself as an uninhibited power. In the last four years, the US receded towards its own frontiers leaving the space for a Chinese expansion. India is hugely concerned over it.
But with Donald Trump, India could effect some counter measures including a rejuvenated Quadrilateral coalition and a little assertion on rule-based order in the South China Sea. But the same Trump philosophy has brought India in a direct confrontation with China.
AN INTROVERT US
Donald Trump may be an extrovert person with a reputation of being a motormouth but under his watch, the US has become an introvert global power. “Make America Great Again” is a philosophy that is reversing the policies that actually made the US a great global power in the last century.
India suffers a lot with this US policy thrust in terms of loss of economic opportunities in trade and agriculture, earning opportunities for Indian professionals and companies hence loss of remittances, losing solid support on issues such as Pakistan-sponsored terrorism and democratic ideology-based support on global issues.
This policy of the US also meant that India’s persistent effort to arrive at a global strategy to deal with Covid-19 pandemic for containing its spread and finding a credible vaccine could not succeed. The US promoted what is being called as “vaccine nationalism” which is not conducive to the fight against a true pandemic.
For decades, the US accepted that climate change was among the biggest challenge to the world and admitted that it contributed to this problem on its path to become an industrialist nation, and hence it owed it to the world to contribute more in combating climate change and global warming.
This stand gave countries like India more elbow room to shape its development strategies. But a change in the stand in the last four years left India with greater burden of a safer future. Climate change policies are inherently linked with cooperation in technology development and sharing. With olden days’ industrial technology, India will continue to lag behind the developed world by a few decades.
The US did not take the threat of terrorism seriously until 9/11 happened in 2001. India has been a victim of terrorism rather export of terror from Pakistan since the late 1980s. The US for long regarded it as a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan.
While 9/11 changed the US outlook on terror, it continued to be lenient to Pakistan, which also got the backing of aspiring global boss China. Under Trump, India got more support on the issue of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism.
But it came with the wrapper of a mediation offer on the issue of Kashmir. However, India successfully fixed the mediation bug and the two countries have appeared on the same page on the issue of fighting terrorism or global terrorism supported by a select group of countries.
The electoral outcome of Trump versus Biden fight may require a readjustment by India over the next four years.