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  • 26 October, 2020

  • 10 Min Read

Why US President poll matters to India?

Why US President poll matters to India?


  • The US relationship is the most important of India’s bilateral ties, having grown in recent years on account of China’s belligerence.
  • This article talks about the impact of US Presidential poll in India.

Why does the US Presidential election matter to India?

  • The relationship with the United States of America matters to India more than any other bilateral engagement: economically, strategically and socially.
  • American Presidents can often make a real difference to bilateral ties, including on trade, on immigration policies, and larger strategic issues.
  • The Indian diaspora in the US is one of the most successful expatriate communities, and while their political preferences may differ — they all favour a closer bonding between their janmabhoomi or pitrabhoomi and their karmabhoomi.
  • The reason for the drastic change in the geo-strategic outlook can be summarised quickly.
  • India’s first serious departure from its Non Aligned posture, the 1971 Indo-Soviet treaty, was a response to the continuing US tilt towards Pakistan and the beginnings of a Washington-Beijing entente.
  • In 2020, it is the frightening prospect of a powerful, belligerent and hegemonic China that has helped New Delhi build its relationship with Washington.

Will the outcome of the election impact India’s ties with China?

  • While Trump 2.0 may be willing to even more aggressively counter China, Biden is likely to follow a policy of “Congagement”: containment with engagement.
  • To be most effective, India’s China policy —many would argue — would have to be customised to the US’s response and coordinated with Washington.
  • Strategic Hedging: A strategy of Hedging offers the prospects of continuing cooperation with China on areas of mutual interest, while building India’s defences and confronting Beijing on a la carte basis (at a time and place of new Delhi’s choice).
    • A Biden Presidency may demand continued strategic Hedging.
  • Bandwagoning Option: Bandwagoning is a defeatist option of capitulation and accepting Chinese hegemony (“If you cannot beat them, join them!”).
  • Balancing option: Balancing is the most challenging and confrontational option and is likely to be the preferred option of the Trump Presidency.
    • India is not in a position to balance China on its own, and balancing (soft and hard: economic, diplomatic and military) would demand building a coalition with the US and other “like-minded” states.

There is a strong belief that Republican Presidents, historically, have been more pro-India than Democrats — is that true?

  • True, Republican regimes are often associated with the surgical pursuit of American interests, and can be less woolly-headed on issues like democracy, nuclear non-proliferation and human rights; but we have had Presidents, across the partisan divide, who have engaged India with passion and vigour.
  • Take the two Presidents often viewed as being the most affectionate towards India since World War II: John F Kennedy, in the 1960s, and George W Bush, in the 2000s.
  • The former was a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat, and the latter a neo-Conservative Republican.
  • Both reached out to India and engaged New Delhi with uncharacteristic zeal, in two very different times, but on both occasions the China threat acted as a catalyst to ensure that the bonding extended beyond just personal chemistry.

  • Recently declassified sources have revealed the extent to which Kennedy was willing to support India in positioning it as a democratic counterweight to a totalitarian China in Asia in the 1960s.
  • “Marshall plan” for India: In 1959, Kennedy has come out with the Marshall plan aiding India in its fight against China in the 2962 war. Marshall plan for India was funded by the NATO allies and Japan.
  • During the Kennedy years, India received unprecedented economic assistance, and in the 1962 war almost a carte blanche in terms of military aid (specifically requested by Nehru).
  • Kennedy also played a role, according to Reidel, in restraining President Ayub Khan of Pakistan from opening a second front against India during the Sino-Indian war.
  • More exceptionally, there were senior figures within the Kennedy administration who wanted India to be helped to test and develop nuclear weapons, before China did so, to give a psychological fillip to its standing in Asia.
  • Had Kennedy not been assassinated in 1963, and Nehru not died in 1964, the history of the US-India relationship may have taken a different course during the difficult 1960s and 1970s.
  • Role of George W. Bush: It was the personal weight that Bush put into it that ensured the success of the nuclear deal between India and the United States.
  • The agreement mainstreamed India’s nuclear programme.
  • Role of Richard Nixon: Similarly, the worst phase of India’s relations with the US was during the Republican Richard Nixon administration and the early years of the Democratic Bill Clinton administration.
  • While the pro-Pakistan tilt of the Nixon Presidency in the 1970s is well known.
  • Clinton years: During the early Clinton years of the 1990s, India and the US had a dip in bilateral relations; with pressure on India to “freeze, rollback and eliminate” its nuclear programme and to settle Kashmir.
  • Fortunately, after the nuclear tests of 1998, the dialogue between Deputy Secretary Strobe Talbott and External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh helped restore balance that led to a gradual warming of relations.


  • In sum, there have been Democratic and Republican Presidents who have viewed India as a partner; and those, across the partisan divide, who have taken a less favourable view of India.

Source: IE

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