2020 US Presidential Election: Impact on Indo- US Relations

2020 US Presidential Election: Impact on Indo- US Relations

Event Report

Webinar No. 10

By Usanas Foundation

Elections are an essential part of a democratic polity. It becomes more significant when one of the most powerful democracies in the world go for the ballot. With US Presidential Elections round the corner, the battle for the leader of the free world sharpens. Naturally, countries like India would be affected by the results of US Elections as it determines the future cooperation between the two nations.

With a particular focus on US Presidential elections and its impact on India-US relations, Usanas Foundation hosted Mr. Taniel S. Koushakjian, Director of Public Policy, Hindu American Foundation, on October 14, 2020. The session was moderated by the founder of the Usanas Foundation, Mr. Abhinav Pandya.

The discussion started with the rising anticipation of the results of the US Presidential elections as it reaches its final stage. During these extraordinary times of Covid- 19, mail ballots have become crucial in deciding the polls' outcomes, and with the expectation that mail votes are expected to be doubled, it becomes a pertinent factor.  Every Presidential election is consequential of their times, and this election is no different. Donald Trump is a divisive figure who has divided the US into two camps. Either the electorate loves him or despises him deeply. This US Election is conducted amidst fear of fake news and Russian interference to install a favorable leader. The present scenario is also swamped with critical views on China from both Republican and Democratic leadership and rising confidence in India as a natural ally. But will US-India relations remain the same if the leadership changes in Washington?  Taniel Koushakjian opines that the US's foreign policy remains unhinged for a long time to come regardless of the leadership change at Washington.

Who will woo Indian Americans in 2020?

The discussion focused on the role of Indian Americans in the present election. Taniel argued that Indian Americans are more awake than ever and increasingly participate in the democratic process. The fortunes of Indian Americans in the tech sector have slowly translated into political significance. Traditionally Indian Americans have been a democrat supporter, but this election could see a significant shift of 30- 35 percent of the Trump camp. The crucial 15 percent shift from Democrats to Republicans could change the game for the race to the White House. Indian Americans are particularly upset about the Democrats endorsing anti- India bills in the Congress and joining the Pakistan Caucuses in criticizing the Indian Government’s policy in Kashmir. Democrat leaders like Ro Khanna and Pramila Jayapal are facing flak for their anti-Indian stance and ignoring the sentiments of Kashmiri Pandits. This has slowly shifted a considerable number of Indian Americans to the Republican camp.

Indian Americans on CAA

Taniel believes that the Indian Government has a PR problem, and this is a case of miscommunication, which has led the world to form negative opinions about the bill. The CAA Bill would not have been misunderstood by the left if it was named an Amnesty Bill or Refugee Protection Bill. By calling it Citizenship Amendment Bill, it seemed as if the citizenship of a particular religious group was questioned. Indian Americans have been reasonably supportive of the bill as far as it saves religious minorities from persecution. Indian Americans have been educating Congress through various initiatives about the bill brought up by the Indian Government and trying to rectify the environment created by the global left.

Trump’s Covid debacle

Trump’s handling of the Covid-19 is dismal indeed, with US becoming the biggest hotspot of the dreaded virus. Trump has a low approval number of 54 percent when discussing handling the pandemic, but core supporters have still posed their faith in him. It could dent his election campaign but not Republican voters who swarm to the polling booths on Election Day as compared to democrat voters.

Future of India- US Relations

On the question of the India-US relationship, Taniel believes that India has increasingly gained respect in the US because of its democratic structure, respect for human rights, and inclusiveness in its polity. The talks of giving India a non- NATO ally status is also in vogue in the Congress. The National Defense Authorization Act Report of Financial Year 2020 is fashioned on a pro- India language but not at the same level as Israel and South Korea. So regardless of who gets elected in the Office of President, India will be given preference in US Foreign Policy. The good rapport between PM Modi and President Trump is evident in the good relations between both the countries. Similarly, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Minister of External Affairs, S. Jaishankar share great bonhomie on international forums. Biden’s presidency will not reverse this relationship and will work to strengthen the relationship. However, Biden’s team consists of people, experts from the Obama presidency who had adopted anti-India stance before. It means that in Biden’s presidency, there would be more scrutiny of India’s policies, leadership consensus a little challenging, but the status of India would remain the same. One of the primary reasons behind that is United States’ trust in India as a reliable partner against Chinese incursions in Asia, US interest in the construct of Indo Pacific, etc. The only hindrance in the path is the recent purchase of S-400 missiles by India from Russia. It has made Congress a little hesitant in its bipartisan support to India. Turkey has also bought S-400 missiles, but India is much different than Turkey in its role as a global player and a responsible power; therefore, more expectations from India to act as a strategic partner.

US Response towards China

In the case of Trump’s win, could we expect a harder stance on China, and is there a negative public sentiment against China? There are two levels of analyzing this sentiment, says Taniel. Firstly since Covid-19 Anti-Chinese feelings are more evident in public, more Americans blame the Chinese government for the spread of the virus, how they blocked information through WHO, arm twisted its operations, and faltered its efforts to deal with the pandemic. There has been a massive shift in the perception of China among the local population and especially Republican voters who have also started boycotting Chinese goods from the market. Secondly, the US government has taken a balanced approach to counter China. Military conflict is farfetched and unnecessary, but the US has shown its concern towards Chinese aggression with its neighbors. So it is increasingly relying on Quad, which consists of the US, India, Australia, and Japan is one of the potent security architecture to keep a check on China. The US also expects a more significant role from the Indian Navy in the Indian Ocean region. For that, the US is ready to help develop capabilities and share expertise with the Indian Navy, fruits of which would be seen in the future. 

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the webinar belong to the panelists and not necessarily to the Usanas Foundation.