Any new leader’s first lot of overseas visits and phone calls, the latter more so during the pandemic, give a realistically accurate insight into his foreign policy priorities. It is significant that India figured on the first list of phone calls only by the new US Defence Secretary and the NSA. Secretary of State Tony Blinken spoke to S Jaishankar after he had touched base with counterparts of several non-G20 countries. If the low ranking in phone calls by US principals to Indian counterparts seemed to suggest that South Asia was not a priority operational theatre for the White House, the anxiety was laid to rest by the wide-ranging topics covered in the Biden-Modi phone call.
The diplomatic bandwidth Biden has sought to cover with Modi is much wider than the security-defence straitjacket Trump imposed on India-US relations. Understandably, climate change and rebuilding the global economy are back in the mix. Quad, an informal group the US is promoting as a bulwark against China, should now embrace all the three pillars it espouses — political and commercial, in addition to military activity in the Indo-Pacific. Biden reiterated his commitment to work together against terrorism, but there are riders attached. The PM’s fulsome praise for Ghulam Nabi Azad in the Rajya Sabha indicates that South Block has picked up signals from the State Department about the new US dispensation’s inclination for reduction in tensions along the LoC and in Kashmir.
However, the Hindutva brigade’s aggressive response to Western criticism of insensitivity in handling the farmers’ protests failed to impress the White House, which has highlighted Biden’s desire to ‘defend democratic institutions and norms’. Democrats in the past did not appreciate the CAA and the Kashmir lockdown either. With China at the gates, it may be a bit late in the day for South Block to dial down the growing strategic reliance on Washington and walk its path at the same time. The resolution of the protesting farmers’ issues may be a good cue to invigorate Indo-US ties under a dispensation with a penchant to use human rights as a diplomatic tool.