As United States President-elect Joe Biden gears up to take over the reins, there is an overall sense of optimism in India over prospects of a greater traction in bilateral relations. The rise of Indian-Americans to key positions in the new Democratic administration, with over two dozen finding a place in the top echelons, set the tone for a more relaxed engagement with the regime. More importantly, Biden’s promise on immigration reforms offers hope on the H-1B visa regime, an area that remains a cause for concern and uncertainty for thousands of Indians because of the whimsical actions of the Trump administration. Similarly, on trade-related issues, Team Biden is expected to be reasonable in its approach in sorting out the irritants that have crept in over the years. Irrespective of the nature of political dispensation in Washington, there has been a growing convergence between India and the United States over a broad spectrum of global issues. This is likely to be amplified by the Biden-Harris duo, given their strong democratic impulses. However, on issues of the status of Jammu & Kashmir and the alleged human rights violations in India, the Biden administration is expected to take a tough stand, going by the campaign themes of the Democratic Party. The views of both Biden and Harris on these issues are at variance with New Delhi’s stated position. Also, Biden had expressed disapproval of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC). It is going to be a test for Indian diplomacy when it comes to navigating these delicate domestic issues.
A Democrat administration is expected to be more reasoned, mature and pragmatic unlike the impulsive and bullying tactics adopted by Trump. While fully backing India in countering China’s territorial hegemony, the Biden presidency is expected to provide strategic space for New Delhi in dealing with Iran and other countries in the Middle East. It will also look differently at the Paris Agreement and visas for Indian workers. In June last year, the Trump administration had suspended H-1B visas. Biden has not only promised to lift the freeze but also to reform the visa system as well as eliminating country quotas on green cards — a policy that has resulted in long waiting periods for Indians. The political journey of Kamala Harris, the first Indian-American to be elected as Vice-President, is largely seen as a triumph of democracy and diversity and for many in India, she represents a natural ally. This is indeed a reflection of how well the Indian-Americans, who constitute about 1% of the population, have done in their new homeland. Their presence will enhance an understanding of India in the administration and is symbolic of close ties.
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