End of India’s “Howdy, Modi” Bonhomie with the USA

Human rights issue will be a sore point with Biden govt, writes AMULYA GANGULI.

———

There are bound to be a few glum faces in India’s external affairs ministry over the news of seven American lawmakers approaching the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, for interceding with India on the farmers’ issue.

The officials in the ministry will not mind Pompeo’s intervention in itself since he reports to a President whose friendliness towards India was highlighted yet again by the conferment of the prestigious Legion of Merit on Narendra Modi for his contribution to strengthening the strategic ties between the two countries and for his leadership aiding India’s rise as a global power.

A year ago, Jaypal’s stand on Kashmir was resented so much by the Indian external affairs minister, S. Jaishankar, that he refused to attend a subsequent meeting with an American team which included her.

What the bureaucrats may be concerned about, however, is the name of an Indian-American Congresswoman, Pramilla Jaypal, among the seven lawmakers. A year ago, Jaypal’s stand on Kashmir was resented so much by the Indian external affairs minister, S. Jaishankar, that he refused to attend a subsequent meeting with an American team which included her.

Senator Kamala Harris, who is now the vice-president-designate, found such conduct by a foreign dignitary unacceptable. But, considering that Jaypal currently heads the influential Congressional Progressive Caucus, making her one of the most powerful US lawmakers, Indian diplomats will not find it easy to avoid her.

It will be obvious to policy makers in New Delhi that the warmth which marked Indo-American relations during Trump’s presidency is coming to an end. There is little likelihood of a replay of the kind of “Howdy, Modi” and “Namaste, Trump” shows in the US and India demonstrating the coziness of the ties between the world’s oldest and the largest democracies.

It will be obvious to policy makers in New Delhi that the warmth which marked Indo-American relations during Trump’s presidency is coming to an end.

Although the relations are bound to remain interested because of the threat of China, there will still be issues which would have the potential of occasionally introducing a sour note. Kashmir is one of them, even though the situation there is now better than what it was in the immediate aftermath of the abrogation of Article 370. But the new sticking point is the farmers’ agitation.

If the agitation against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) begins again, as it is already threatening to do in Assam, then the government will have to worry about its impact abroad. As is known, the earlier agitations on this issue, notably in the New Delhi locality of Shaheen Bagh, had attracted considerable attention in Europe and America, so much so that one of the elderly participants in the protests had featured in Time magazine’s list of the year’s most prominent personalities.

The replacement of a right-wing administration in the US by a centrist ruling party with an influential Leftist component represented by Bernie Sanders, among others, cannot but keep India’s right-wing government on tenterhooks.

As the US lawmakers’ letter to Pompeo signifies, the farmers’ agitation is beginning to be seen abroad as yet another example of the Modi government’s authoritarian tendency which have made the Sweden-based V-Dem Institute note a “steep decline” in India’s democratic status. However, by asking why “the citizens of the world’s largest democracy (should) allow small nations … to lecture India”, a saffron blogger has displayed a kind of impatience with criticism which makes the “largest democracy” routinely brand critics as anti-nationals.

Since the US is not a small nation, its criticism cannot be summarily brushed aside. It is clear, therefore, that outside of the Republican Party, the BJP is deeply dismayed by Trump’s defeat since “abki bar” (this time), there won’t be any Trump “sarkar”, as the audience at the “Howdy, Modi” jamboree had chanted in Houston.

Instead, the replacement of a right-wing administration in the US by a centrist ruling party with an influential Leftist component represented by Bernie Sanders, among others, cannot but keep India’s right-wing government on tenterhooks. Its nervousness will be all the greater because the Democratic Party generally emphasizes human rights issues a lot more than the more pragmatic Republicans.

It is for this reason that Trump generally turned a blind eye to the detention of politicians and activists and the curtailment of telecommunication services in Kashmir in the aftermath of the scrapping of the state’s special status and its conversion into a Union territory. The perceived indifference of the right-wing parties towards civil liberties persuaded the Modi government to invite a group of ultra-right European parliamentarians to be the first foreign group to visit Kashmir.

On the other hand, Kamala Harris said, “we have to remind Kashmiris that they are not alone in the world. We are keeping track of the situation. There is a need to intervene if the situation demands”. As the latest initiative of the American lawmakers shows, this “need” has arisen in their view with regard to the farmers. Clearly, Indo-American relations are on the brink of a new development. (IPA Service)

(Amulya Ganguli is a veteran journalist and a seasoned political commentator.)

 

The Leaflet