How India Views the U.S. President Elections

How India Views the U.S. President Elections
photo credit:REUTERS/Carlos Barria/達志影像

What you need to know

Which candidate would be best for the future of Indo-American relations? An expert shares his views.

As the day of the U.S. presidential polls approaches, the political temperature has risen to an unprecedented level, with Democratic Party presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican Party candidate Donald J. Trump vigorously trying to ensure victory.

Given the U.S.’ continued influence in global affairs, the international community is also anxiously waiting to see how the next U.S. administration will respond to many important international issues including China’s assertive posturing in the South China Sea, the crises in Syria, Ukraine and Iraq, the menace of terrorism and others.

India is also closely observing the election to understand how bilateral ties between the two countries will likely progress under the new administration. Indian strategists, experts and common people are debating who would be the better U.S. president for India – Clinton or Trump. Though there is a small section of nationalist forces who view Trump as a good president for India, given his anti-Muslim stand, the general feeling in India is that under a Trump administration New Delhi and Washington would likely face obstacles in sustaining the momentum gained in their bilateral ties over the past two years.

Undoubtedly, there are some convincing reasons for making this assessment. One factor that casts dark clouds over the future of Indo-U.S. ties under a Trump administration is his announcement that he would implement a tough immigration policy and hike the minimum wage paid to H1B visa holders. This would not only reduce job prospects for skilled Indian workers, there would also be a sharp decline in remittances that India receives from its non-resident people in the U.S. This in turn would have an adverse impact on the Indian economy.

Trump’s position that Muslims should be banned from entering the U.S. has also set off alarm bells in India, which has the second-largest Muslim population in the world. Though sections of Hindu nationalists have expressed their consonance with such views, the fact remains that the secular character of Indian democracy does not allow the Indian government to share Trump’s degrading views about the Muslim community. This is possibly the reason why, when replying to a question on this particular issue in the U.S., India Defense Minister Manohar said, “we don’t look toward communities with suspicion.”

Further, except calling Pakistan “probably the most dangerous country in the world” because of its nuclear weapons, he has not outlined his approach towards South Asia. Added to this is Trump's comment that the U.S. should not automatically come to the defence of its NATO allies if they are attacked has started off a debate about a possible shift in U.S.’s security thinking under the Trump administration. Of course, at a time when India and the U.S. are trying to develop a strong power growing with Japan, Australia and other like-minded countries to contain China’s assertive behavior, Trump's election as the President may adversity impact this process. In addition, as Trump does not have the experience of working at any level in the U.S. administration, his ideas and capabilities on many issues including foreign policy are yet to be tested.

In contrast, Clinton enjoys good personal relations with India, the genesis of which can be dated to 1995 when she visited India as a part of her 12-day trip to South Asia. It is believed that she played a crucial role in persuading her husband, then-president Bill Clinton, to revive the Indo-U.S. relationship, which had hit a low point following the 1998 nuclear tests by India. She co-chaired the Senate India Caucus and supported the India-U.S. Civil Nuclear Agreement. During her tenure as Secretary of State (2009-2013), she further consolidated the deepening engagement between the two countries. Her contributions to facilitating cooperation between the two countries in the field of high technology, defense and in establishing the strategic dialogue in July 2009 have been widely recognized. She played an important role in strengthening ties with New Delhi under President Obama’s rebalancing policy to Asia. Her speech in Chennai in 2011 was viewed as a historic moment in the history of bilateral ties between the two countries, where she said that “the time has come for India to lead […] Much of the history of the 21st century will be written in Asia which, in turn, will be influenced by the partnership between the U.S. and India and its relationship with neighbors.”

Clinton also said that India should “not just look east, but engage east and act east” — to emerge and consolidate the status of an Asian power. Her strong stand against Pakistan for its dismal performance in eliminating terrorist heavens from its soil continues to have its impact on the minds of the Indian people. In fact, the closeness between India and Clinton has led Trump to allege that she has received funds from Indian leaders. According to the Wall Street Journal, Clinton enjoys a good reputation among the sections of Indian-American community, which is third-largest ethnic group among Asians in the U.S., with a population of about 3.2 million. Unlike Trump, Clinton has recognized the benefits to the U.S. from its outsourcing policy. In turn, the synergy between Clinton and the Indian-American community would further help strength the bonds between the two countries. In fact, her election campaign chief John Podesta has said that Clinton will take relations to a new level and better economic strategic ties with India to anchor the U.S. in the region. More importantly, a President Clinton would ensure the continuity of the upward momentum in the relationship between the two countries, enabling India and the U.S. to further expand cooperation in several areas of common interest including economic, security, counter-terrorism, climate change and others.

First Editor: J. Michael Cole
Second Editor: Edward White