The most-used words in Joe Biden’s inaugural speech were ‘America, American and Americans’ and ‘nation, people and democracy’. The message to heal a badly-split America, its apogee reached in the mob assault on the Capitol barely a fortnight back, is understandably Biden’s top-most priority. But apart from some intense navel-gazing, Biden also declared that ‘America is back’. Hopefully, this will not be an America that under Trump was nickel-and-diming even close allies. India was robbed of zero-duty access to over Rs 40,000 crore worth of exports to the US and PM Modi mocked for high import duty on Harley Davidson motorcycles.
Though India has been a bipartisan success story so far, this is more because the US still has to make further ingress into its markets and defence sectors. But like all of Washington’s other partners, India will be hoping the Biden-Kamala team will usher in predictability and sensitivity to the needs of others. Unlike in the Obama administration, the Left has a firm hook into the White House this time. Several of Biden’s appointees are instinctively ranged against ill-liberalist and majoritarian tendencies. Trump’s free pass to the Modi government on the CAA, lynchings and the communal riots was facilitated due to New Delhi’s enthusiastic over-identification with Washington’s China-baiting in the Indo-Pacific.
With Kamala Harris as Vice-President, human rights issues will not get overlooked. The farmers’ agitation will be the latest on the list. The Modi government has to instead get the US more interested in non-military areas of cooperation that have been marked by friction and apathy. The shifting of supply chains away from China ought to start with pharmaceuticals and move on to other areas of high dependency. In the military field, India and the US must move to higher-level strategic discussions that lead to a division of labour in the Indian Ocean. India will also need elbow room in its foreign choices — to source oil from Iran and Venezuela and defence platforms from Russia. The Modi government will need to sidestep eddies to carve out a more meaningful relationship with the new US administration in the post-Covid, post-Galwan Valley world.