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“Globalist” versus “Nationalist”: Impact of 2016 U.S. Election on Indo-U.S.Relations
By Piyush Kumar
| Category: U.S. India Relations

With a large part of the 2016 United States presidential election cycle being dominated by the major-party nominees appealing to concerns of the electorate at home, foreign policy seems to have taken a backseat, unseemingly at a time of intense global crises. However, the two major issues that are crucial this year- economy and immigration – have international repercussions that should not be ignored and Indo-U.S relations have become more relevant in this election season than ever before.

The U.S.-India relations has become one of “natural allies” propelled by a shared commitment to democracy and a convergence of economic and strategic interests. The deepening of economic reforms under the Modi government, the shared commitment to combating global terror and maintaining stability and peace in Asia-Pacific has made this partnership the one that would define the trajectory of the 21st century. This is not to mention the excellent rapport that has developed between successive leaders of the two nations over the past decade, particularly since the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal was signed in 2005.

Having outlined the present state of the relationship, it is important to note that there are three issues where the partnership between the nations could get tested. These are bilateral trade, immigration and regional security in Asia. Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee who has had a long experience of engagement with India—as First Lady, then as member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (where she co-founded the Senate India caucus) and later as Secretary of State — seems to be faring relatively better amongst the two candidates in terms of the stability of the relationship. The reasons are numerous: her popularity amongst Indian-Americans who largely vote Democrat (she has referred to herself as the “Senator from Punjab”), her pro-immigration stance and her moderate stance with regard to trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership that was initiated by the Obama administration. While her foreign policy has been criticized for being hawkish, it is certain that the ongoing U.S. “pivot” to Asia would see a larger role for India in the long-term. She has repeatedly emphasized on the need for Pakistan to cooperate with India on terrorism, a challenge that both countries face and seems willing to take a tough stance on Pakistan’s resolve to fight terror. As a successor to Obama, it is very unlikely that she would not favour cooperation in defence and civilian nuclear energy.

In sharp contrast, the Republican nominee Donald Trump has run an increasingly nativist campaign, harping on the downsides of unchecked globalization. His rhetoric on bringing U.S. jobs from Mexico and China has rattled American trade partners worldwide. While he has praised the Indian-American community occasionally, his support base seems to favour a hardline approach to immigration, which would include reducing the number of H1-B visas, something that would affect Indian immigrants adversely. His opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, of which India is not a signatory, would harbour well for Indian exports but his vagueness in terms of policy specifics raises concerns over the implications of his economic policy on bilateral trade. Though his extreme stance regarding terror has gained him a few adulations in India, his veiled racism and xenophobia seems to deter most Indian-Americans from supporting him.

In the medium and the long-term, there seems to be no radical shift in the current status-quo that prevails in the relationship but only incremental policy changes, regardless of the outcome of the election in November. On the other hand, there seems to be scope for tremendous improvement and for India, enormous opportunities to assert itself in the global arena.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this contest entry are those of the author and do not reflect the views, positions or policies of the U.S. Government