NEW DELHI, India
The first American of Indian origin to be featured on a major US national ticket as a vice presidential candidate will not change US-Indian relations if Democrats take the White House, according to experts.
Kamala Harris, whose mother was Indian, and was born and raised in the US, was named as the running mate to presumptive US Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.
The decision delighted those in India and experts see her nomination as important.
“The Indian American community feels being represented,” Sylvia Mishra, a Washington-based researcher and expert on India and US relations told Anadolu Agency. “Kamala Harris’s nomination is particularly important because it is for the first time a woman of color, the first-ever Black woman and the first ever woman of Indian descent has been nominated for one of the highest national offices in the country.”
She said her Indian origin will remain significant in US domestic politics. “Harris is likely to pursue progressive policies on immigration (H1-B visas). However, her Indian origins will unlikely have any major impact on how the US or (if elected) the Biden-Harris administration will deal with India broadly on thorny issues like trade and [Intellectual Property Rights] issues,” she said.
According to observers, relations between the two countries would continue to see an upward trajectory.
In the last few years, the government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi is viewed as being close to American Republicans under US President Donald Trump. This was most prominently seen in the Howdy Modi event last year attended by mostly Republican Party leaders as against US Democrats.
“The India-US relations are on an upward trajectory and the trend is going to continue as both countries enjoy bipartisan support to deepen existing relations,” said Mishra.
Uma Purushothaman, an expert on American politics at Central University of Kerala echoes Mishra’s views. “I don’t think it will have a lot of impact on India-US relations because of two reasons. Firstly, India-US relations have bi-partisan support in the US because of economic and strategic reasons and nothing is really going to change in that irrespective of who the vice president is. Secondly, constitutionally, the Vice President of the US does not really have a lot of say in foreign policy unless he or she is given tasks by the president,” she said.
Uma added that Biden is not anti-India and he supported the nuclear deal and helped strengthen ties between the two countries during the Obama administration. “So, India-US relations will continue to be strong, especially given the overarching mutual need to manage China,” she said.
Harris, who has batted for strong ties between India and the US, also voiced strong opinions about Kashmir and experts said such issues may also come under scrutiny under a Biden administration, if elected.
In 2019, Harris supported fellow Indian American congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, with whom Indian Minister of External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar had refused to meet during a visit to the US.
“She is unlikely to look kindly on nationalism and majoritarianism and has spoken against the [Citizen Amendment Act] as has Biden himself. It is possible that India’s human rights record will come under increased scrutiny under a Biden administration despite the synergies between India and the US. But this is something that Indian diplomats are used to dealing with, particularly during Democratic administrations,” said Uma. “The government in India and the ruling party are likely to be a bit wary of her given views. In fact, some supporters are already labelling her as ‘anti-India,’ which I think is a bit harsh on her as she has said there are unbreakable bonds between India and the US.”
Mishra also agrees. “Harris in the Biden-Harris administration will raise its dissatisfaction over human rights issues – whether it is human rights issues in Kashmir or about the abject mistreatment, mass detention, suppression, and humiliation of Uyghurs Muslims in Xinjiang, China,” she said.
Manjeet Kripalani, a former Indian journalist and co-founder and executive director of Mumbai based think tank, Gateway House, said such issues will not become a sticking point.
“Issues like Kashmir and Citizenship Amendment Act are not going to be dominating the relationship between India and US. There are many other things, which are deepening concern and the relationship between India and US. The issues like China, India Pacific, commerce and digital etc,” she said, adding that India will “work with all governments, no matter whether they are democratic or republican.”
Professor Harsh Pant, who teaches international relations at King’s College London said that while Harris has made remarks critical of Indian policies in the past, foreign policy will remain the domain of Biden in his administration.
“I don’t think policy makers in New Delhi would be particularly disturbed. The Modi government has managed Obama and Trump, two very different leaders with very different policy agendas, quite successfully,” he said. “Harris’ nomination doesn’t matter much as Indo-US relations are being driven by a fundamental strategic convergence between the two and personalities have become peripheral.”
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