November 15, 2020

Ab ki Baar Biden Sarkar

THE victory of Joe Biden in the presidential election in the United States must have been a galling for Prime Minister Narendra Modi.  After all, he was the first Indian prime minister ever to virtually endorse a candidate for  the election, the incumbent Donald Trump. 

Everyone recalls the reiteration of the slogan “Ab ki Baar Trump Sarkar” by Modi at the “Howdy Modi” rally at Houston in September 2019.  The Namaste Trump rally at Ahmedabad in February 2020 was another political gesture in favour of Trump organised by Modi.

Traditionally, the Indian government maintains a neutrality in the presidential contest between the Republicans and the Democrats. After all, the strategic ties built up over the past three decades have bipartisan support in the United States.  It hardly matters whether it is a Democrat or Republican president, as in foreign policy matters to pursue policies in the interests of US imperialism.

One has only to recall that during the UPA government, the strategic alliance was strengthened during the Bush administration and this was continued by President Obama.

But Modi went out of the way to woo and ally with Trump.  There was an ideological component to this relationship.  The BJP-RSS combine recognised an ideological soul-mate in Trump and the far right circles who ran its administration.  They found affinity with the White supremacist and the racist world view of Trumpism; they reveled in the Islamophobia and anti-China rhetoric of Trump.  White nationalism found an echo in Hindutva nationalism. 

This ideological love affair was manifested when Harsh Vardhan Shringla, who was the Indian ambassador to the US before becoming the foreign secretary, met Steve Bannon, the former strategic advisor of Trump.  A naked White supremacist and anti-Muslim bigot, Shringla, after meeting him in September 2019 tweeted: “A pleasure to meet the legendary ideologue and `Dharma’ warrior @StephenBannon, an avid follower of the #Hindu epic the #BhagvadGita”. 

Bannon was removed from the staff of the White House as his views were considered to be too extreme for those in the Trump circle.  Yet Shringla, the official Indian envoy to Washington, sought him out and met with him. Though the tweet was deleted later, it revealed the mindset of the Modi regime. Shringla was promoted soon after as the foreign secretary.

The partisanship for the Trump administration was also manifested when external affairs minister, S Jaishankar, refused to meet the leadership of the Congressional foreign affairs committee because of the presence of Congress woman, Pramila Jayapal.  Jayapal has moved a bipartisan resolution in the Congressional Committee in December 2019 urging the Indian government to lift the communications clampdown, release political detenue and protect press freedom in Kashmir. Jaishankar took the outrageous stand that “he is not interested to meet the delegation” because Jayapal was part of it.

The Modi government has no other option but to make a turn around and welcome the election of the Biden-Harris team.  Jaishankar has to swallow the fact that Kamala Harris had also criticised the Indian government policies on Jammu & Kashmir.

The whole strategic establishment and political commentators are busy pointing out that the Biden administration will continue to pursue the strategic alliance with India.  That is self-evident.  Enlisting India as an ally has been a three decade-old project of the United States.  There is not going to be any reversal when the new administration takes over.  But this misses the real question. Will the Indian establishment learn from the bitter experience of the past four years when it was cozying up to a vicious imperialist bully which damaged India’s vital interests – whether it be climate change, India’s relations with Iran or trade and visa regulations? Trump and his cohorts like Pompeo were seeking to use India as a doormat for their hegemonic ambitions. 

Now is the time when a new presidency is being ushered in, for India to assert an independent foreign policy and expand its srategic autonomy. The time is opportune to break out of the subordinate status that India finds itself reduced to. But then, cravenness towards US imperialism is inherent in the makeup of the Hindutva nationalists.  It is difficult for them to overcome this characteristic. 

(November 11, 2020)