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  • Kamakshi Belwal


It suffices to say that the presidential elections of the United States of America (USA) are of extreme importance, not only to the country’s citizens but to foreign governments as well. The US has influenced and dominated the world in the fields of defense, economy, trade and as a leader in multilateral institutions for many, many years. However, with the recent developments in the world such as the coronavirus pandemic, the rise of China as an economic power and the latest foreign policy decisions of the US, the country’s position in the current global order seems to be deteriorating. The upcoming elections on November 3rd are one of the most important elections the United States may be facing in recent years as the outcome of these elections will determine its standing on the various issues stated above.

Although, a few questions arise. How will these elections and its outcome impact US bilateral relations with India? Will Biden enforce policies that will aid India especially with the tension it is facing with China? Will Trump benefit India as both the countries leaders are right-wing populists? How has Trump aided and benefited India during his term? Will Trump’s decisions and views on immigration impact the many workers who go to the US for a better opportunity? How does Trump aim to garner votes and benefit the Indian American community within the United States considering the roots of Kamala Harris, the Democrats VP nominee?

This article aims to answer some of these questions, along with understanding how Trump will aid Indians, both in the US and India overall, and improve bilateral relations if re-elected.

US-India bilateral relations

Bilateral relations between the US and India were strained throughout the Cold War. It can be owed to the fact that India was Non Aligned throughout the Cold War but despite this, had more of an inclination towards the Soviet Union (USSR). However, relations seemed to have improved in the last two decades after the US agreed to achieve a ‘full civil nuclear energy cooperation’ with India in July 2005. This granted India a waiver to initiate civil nuclear trade in 2008 and the ‘123 Agreement’, a landmark agreement between the US and India, was signed; seemingly strengthening bilateral relations.

The bilateral relations continued to strengthen under the Obama administrations with multiple talks and dialogues being held pertaining towards launching economic partnerships, security dialogues, backing India’s bid to become a permanent member in the UN Security Council, recognizing India as a defense partner and the visits of both the leaders to each other’s countries.

Under the Trump administration, the ties initially seemed to have strengthened, especially economically and defense wise. Both the leaders are right-wing populists and have reiterated their ‘friendship’ and ‘fondness’ for each other multiple times. This fondness resulted in the ‘2+2’ dialogue at the defense and foreign ministry level. Additionally, both countries have a similar approach to counter the threat that China poses on various levels.

However, problems soon arose when the Trump administration took decisions that went against India’s preferences and benefits. One of them was removing India from the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP), an arrangement that helped developing countries with trade and demanded that India must give a proper treatment of US goods within its market. In retaliation, India imposed higher tariffs on US goods but despite the talks which have taken place to settle this dispute, no settlement has been reached yet. The other decision taken was an attempt to mediate the tensions in Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370, but despite this, Trump has refused to comment or criticize the internal unrest that has risen with the abrogation or the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) within India and has instead stated that he trusts India’s governing and democratic system.

Although, US-India bilateral relations are strengthening when it comes to their approach to China. With the increasing economic competitive nature between the US and China along with US’s desire to counter China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific region when teamed up, the increasing tensions between India and China after the military skirmishes at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Easter Ladakh can lead to stronger relations especially in the future. Although, the fate of this relationship will depend on the outcome of the 2020 elections.

(Image Source)

As Trump’s administration has taken a firm stance against China, India is being benefited in many ways including better bilateral defence cooperation and higher degrees of strategic coordination which stem out of the Free and Open Indo- Pacific strategy. Some of these benefits included decreasing the barriers which allow India access to certain forms of sensitive technologies and further building on agreements which were made during the Obama administration. If Trump is re-elected, it is expected that these benefits will be expanded to strengthen India as a regional power to counter China’s presence- both in South Asia and in the Indian ocean. It is also expected in matters of trade, economic relations will strengthen because, despite the tariffs, trade between the two countries seemed to soar while the trade deficit in India’s favour seemed to have narrowed. If re-elected, US central banks under the Trump administration are expected to have a more unorthodox policy which includes a low-interest rate which can be extended resulting in high yielding regions in Asia to experience an accelerated capital flow. This will benefit developing economies like India and Indonesia, both of which have the largest yield spreads over the US treasuries.

While it seems like bilateral relations will seemingly flourish further under Trump, it must be noted that in the past two decades, bilateral relations under any US president, be it Republican or Democrat has always flourished and benefited India. If Biden wins the elections and comes to power, according to his statements and foreign policy plan, he will crack down hard on terrorism in South Asia and have no tolerance for it. He has also stated that his administration will aid India to combat the rising threats posed by Pakistan and China. Additionally, Biden has warned Pakistan to not take advantage of the aid and support provided to them by the US to combat terrorism as the results are minimal, an aspect which will play in India’s favour.

Hence, both the candidates have policies that will benefit India if they win and occupy the White House.

Trump on Indian immigrants

Many Indians go to the United States for multiple reasons; for building a better life and gaining better opportunities, for jobs, education, and other reasons. Immigration has contributed to a great extent to the American economy’s bolstering success, and the Indian immigrants especially have contributed to make the US a leader in tech and have helped many American companies such as Google and Facebook reach where they are today. These Indian immigrants usually go on H-1B owing to their specialized roles in IT companies and their spouses go on H-4 visas as dependents.

With the arrival of Trump in the White House, immigration became a major concern and was a part of Trump’s America First policy. To ‘Make America Great Again’ in June 2020, Trump signed an executive order to suspend the H1-B, H-4, H-2B(non-agriculture workers) and J visas (education) until the end of the year. This decision, according to the admin, was made to protect American jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it has been criticized by both the parties and the tech industry.

This decision exempts all those who already acquired a visa before the 24th of June, those individuals working in COVID-19 research labs and treatment centres, and those needed for economic recovery.

While this executive order places a suspension on the various visas in general, the most affected is the Indian community because a majority of H-1B visas are provided to them. Many of these Indians work as engineers and software technicians in IT companies, serving as their backbones. This suspension will not only impact their jobs and positions but will also impact the functioning of Indian tech companies, such as Wipro and Infosys, who employ many American nationals.

Additionally, following this decision, the Trump administration was criticized by the Indian government stating that these immigrants contribute to the upliftment of the US economy and this decision will just bolster it, despite the various job opportunities it seems to create. This decision was also criticized by Sunder Pichai (CEO of Google and Alphabet), by US policymakers who state that this will harm the US more than benefit it, by various businesses and by the US Chamber of Commerce, all of whom cite the same or similar reasons.

On the other hand, with Biden, he has repeatedly ensured that he will reverse this decision. He claims that he understands the value and contributions immigrants have to the US and its economy. Additionally, he has said his administration will grant citizenship to undocumented immigrants, especially those belonging to the Asia Pacific Island Community.

Thus, when it comes to Indian immigrants, Joe Biden will definitely benefit bilateral relations between India and the US and further benefit tech companies who contribute significantly to the US economy.

The Indian American Community

The Indian American community in the United States made a decision that shocked many. A significant number of members in this community had voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 Presidential elections. This mainly came as a shock because for many, many years the Indian community has always remained Democratic and voted for Obama in the past presidential elections.

Even though the Indian American community forms barely 2% of the US population, they disproportionately affect the elections. They constitute the most successful and most educated foreign community in the US and have been the major focus target for both the parties. Many Indian Americans are business owners and with the various domestic policies, such as tax cuts, which were proposed by Trump to be implemented during his 2016 campaign if he came to power. These Indian American business owners ended up voting for Trump as the proposed policies appealed to them and aimed to benefit them the most. There is also the ‘Modi factor’ which came into play, persuading many to vote for Trump.

Many Indian Americans support Modi and credit him for making India more visible on the global stage, giving a feeling of nationalism and pride to the Indian Americans towards India. Additionally, the leaders of the two countries have a similar ideology and approach to many issues, compelling the Indian Americans to vote for Trump in 2016. Trump is seemingly building his appeal and base on this support towards Modi for the upcoming elections.

Many Indian Americans praised Modi on his decision to abrogate Article 370, repealing Kashmir’s special constitutional status. This support was further showcased when Modi visited Houston, not a month later, and was cheered by a crowd of nearly 50,000 Indian Americans and Trump, despite the various protests that were occurring back home. Trump and his administration have reiterated connections between their support of India and her leader which interests the Indian Americans.

Though, the main question posed for this election term, however, is whether or not the Indian community will vote for Trump considering Kamala Harris, an Indian- Jamaican woman, is on the Democratic VP ticket.

Though there is a chance that those who voted for Trump in 2016 will vote for him again in the 2020 elections to aid their businesses, nearly 80% of the Indian American community, especially the women will support and vote Democrat. This is owed to the Kamala’ Harris’ heritage giving the election platform the much-needed representation from minority communities and because Harris is nominated a VP, more Indian American are likely to vote in the 2020 elections, according to surveys. Even though she does come with past controversies, her nomination has made the community more enthusiastic about the Biden campaign, especially on his commitment to inclusiveness and diversity. Harris’ also appeals to the community as a strong and powerful leader who is a harsh critic of the Trump administration, persuading them to vote for her. Trump has also shown his racist tendencies by mocking how Indians, including Modi, communicate in English and has also called Kamala Harris a ‘monster’ something he has only sued for terrorists and murderers.

While the Trump administration's policies towards aiding businesses appeal the most to Indian business owners in the US increasing support from the community, many other Indians are still leaning democratic and this will reflect in the upcoming elections.

Concluding Remarks

The Trump administration seems to have benefited bilateral relations with India, in terms of security and trade. While his re-election seems to benefit India in the future, it must be noted that Trump had built on the relations which were set by the previous administrations and in the past, irrespective of whether the American president was republican or democrat, relations with India seemed to flourish. Additionally, Trump's executive order to suspend H-1B and other subsequent visas have impacted the Indian immigrant community the most which have impacted the US-India ties significantly. It has been criticized by policymakers also as it will impact the US economy. Biden, on the other hand, has promised to reverse this decision if he is voted into power and laid out policies to benefit the immigrants showcasing him as a possible better president.

Lastly, a majority of the Indian American community who are business owners had voted for Trump in 2016 as his policies on tax cuts appealed to benefit them the most. While this number is seeing a rise for the 2020 elections, it must be noted that more than 70% of the Indian American community, especially the women, are inclined towards the democrats. This is because Kamala Harris’ nomination has made the community more enthusiastic about Joe Biden’s presidency and his policies which seem to benefit India and the Indian community as a whole.

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