Former Vice President Joe Biden has defeated President Donald Trump in a tightly contested American election held in the backdrop of the biggest health crisis in more than one hundred years. The election was followed closely in India for three reasons: the presence of a candidate of Indian origin on the Democratic ticket; the rising prominence of the Indian American community in US politics; and the foreign policy implications that every new administration presents.
Let me address these three factors, one by one, beginning with the significance of the Indian American community in this year’s elections.
A new era for Indian Americans
Symbolically, for Indian Americans, the Biden victory heralds a new era, with one of their own, Kamala Harris, assuming the position of vice president which is only a heartbeat away from the presidency. The elevation of the multiracial California senator to this critical leadership position is a historic occasion, not just for Indian Americans, but also for African Americans, other minority groups, and women.
There were many other positives for the Indian American community as well. As widely reported, the community was actively courted by both campaigns, especially in swing states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and North Carolina.
The reelection of the four Indian American members of the US House of Representatives is another reason for the community to celebrate. Ami Bera, Ro Khanna, Pramila Jayapal and Raja Krishnamoorthi, all Democrats, secured easy victories.
Additionally, more than a dozen Indian Americans won various state and local races, including five women. That increased the overall representation of the community at various governmental levels.
There were some Indian American losses. Even though she was the favorite, Sara Gideon failed to unseat Sen. Susan Collins. And, former diplomat Sri Preston Kulkarni lost in Texas’ 22nd Congressional District. Another Indian American, Hiral Tipirneni, lost in Arizona’s 6th district. All three are Democrats.
However, the losses of these three candidates do not in any way diminish the accomplishment of the Indian American community, which fielded more candidates in this election cycle at all levels than ever before.
Good for India
Champions of India-US relations should be reassured that there will be a man in the Oval Office of the White House who has known India longer than any American president at the beginning of his term. Joe Biden has been a good friend and valuable supporter of India during his Senate years and as a vice president
There are pundits in Delhi that believe that Trump would have been better for India. As evidence, they point to the current president’s silence on the Kashmir issue and the Citizenship Amendment Act.
Some in India also saw Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s relation with Trump as advantageous for New Delhi.
During PM Modi’s September 2019 US visit, Trump made a cameo appearance at the “Howdy Modi” event in Houston with Modi at a gathering of 50,000 Indian Americans. Earlier this year, Trump addressed a large rally in Ahmedabad during his two-day India trip in February.
These interactions might be seen as being advantageous for India-US relations. But the truth is that Trump’s attitude toward India has been transactional all along.
While he benefited from these two events politically, they did not translate into any meaningful gains for India. In fact, under the Trump administration, bilateral trade and commercial relations have deteriorated considerably. In fact, a bilateral trade deal that was expected to be inked has not materialized to this day.
On issues such as H-1B, Trump’s anti-immigrant policies have adversely affected India and hundreds of thousands of Indian nationals currently working in the United States. Biden has promised that he will reverse many of Trump’s immigration and economic policies. This will strengthen the bilateral ties between India and the U.S. and make the relationship a strategic one once again.
The slow pace of counting votes in several states, which caused a delay in reporting the results, has raised eyebrows in India. Some on social media have been gloating about the superiority of the Indian electoral system where votes are counted and results are usually declared within a 12-hour period.
In this regard, it is worth pointing out that the American electoral process is not coordinated and regulated by a central authority like the Election Commission of India. It is highly localized, with states and more than 3,100 counties in charge of all aspects of the election, ranging from the issuance of ballot paper to counting and certifying the results.
In this year’s election contest, an unprecedented number of Americans used mail-in ballots because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Tabulating and making sure of the accuracy of these ballots is more difficult than doing so for those votes cast on site. Doing so, however, is critical to ensuring the integrity of the elections, which are sacrosanct in a democracy.
Therefore, the delays in counting votes and the slow pace of the entire process should not be seen as a weakness of American democracy. They denote its strength.
In this year’s election Joe Biden won and so did the American democracy. That is a good thing for the United States, for India and indeed for the world.