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How do you think the U.S. presidential election will impact U.S.-India relations?
By Karthik Shankar
| Category: U.S. India Relations

No one expects to get teary-eyed in an econometrics class, yet there I was. While the lecturer droned on and on about stochastic variables, I was watching one of those moments that numbers can’t capture, yet serendipitously pop up in the theatre of democracy. As I listened to Barack Obama’s now iconic victory speech, I kept trying to swallow my emotional reaction to his magnificent oratory and the magnitude of his ascension to his country’s highest seat.


This may seem tangential but ultimately, it’s these zeitgeist capturing episodes that form the membranous portions of relationships. The truth is there has always been a cloud of uncertainty surrounding the place of Indians and India during the run up to the American elections. Will Trump bolster American and Indian business ties? Will Clinton have more Indian-Americans in her administration? There are also some evergreen Indian concerns that are independent of the election cycle. We always question any American President’s financial assistance to the Pakistani military and ask about their expansion or contraction with regards to the issuance of H-1B visas. 


Also, I’d argue the real impact the presidential elections has on its foreign relations with India cannot be captured. It is, then, erroneous to look at U.S-India relations as some kind of binary that shifts with each election cycle and president. Relations are multi-faceted and it’s hard to turn back the wheels of historical relations, commerce, military relations, and diplomacy which are already spinning. It’s also important to note that both Trump and Clinton have touted India as a geopolitical ally. Red or blue, the person in the president’s seat from January is unlikely to upend the countries’ hard-earned partnership. This doesn’t mean that American presidents are puppet leaders, rather they stand as larger symbols of the American electorate. They are the public face of a potent democracy that is functioning on many levels, not its fascist omnipotent head. 


So then it’s hard to creditably assess the election’s impact without taking into account the candidates’ life stories and ideological standpoints. Trump’s strong rhetoric on terrorism and illegal immigrants is likely to win him followers who have griped about the same issues within our borders. And as a seasoned politician, Clinton’s foreign policy acumen and strong political and business make her a predictable ally for us.
But it’s the stories of adversity against all odds that we Indians really respond to. Even before Obama attended last year’s Republic day celebrations, he had acutely represented, to every urban Indian at least, the American dream to those of us living outside its borders.

 

Last Monday, I watched the debate between Trump and Clinton with bated breath. As someone who deeply admires Clinton, I clearly had a horse in the race. Yet, at the end of the debate, all I was left with was a sense that I was watching a significant cultural moment play out on screen and not just because a woman was part of it. In this age of the internet, even someone like me, thousands of miles away could access a debate in real-time where two candidates on either sides of the ideological spectrum shared a stage. Their debate communicated America’s tradition of political heterogeneity not just to the American public but millions of denizens across the world. That philosophy I’d argue is what gets distilled into U.S-India relations; a liberal tradition for trying to work with diametrically opposing viewpoints and coming to a greater cultural understanding. This is part of the ‘je ne sais quoi’ in U.S and India’s relationship and it can’t be quantified by trade deals or handshake agreements.


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