The Biden-Harris ticket’s victory in the US 2020 Presidential elections was celebrated across the country which had been eagerly awaiting the result for the past week. The win has been historic for a variety of reasons and one of the most important ones is the pathbreaking Vice-Presidency of Kamala Harris. She is not only the first woman and the first person of African-American descent but also the first of Indian ancestry to become American VP.
In fact, Indian-Americans have played a significant role in Biden’s campaign, whether in providing financial assistance or as community organisers. Pre-poll surveys showed that 72 per cent of the Indian-American community was planning to vote for Biden, and a list on the Democrat candidate’s website showed that over two dozen Indian-Americans had donated over USD 100,000 to his and running mate Harris’ campaign fund.
A study in 2019 found that Indian-American donors gave the most overall in individual contributions to Democratic candidates in the race for US president at the time compared to other Asian Americans.
Silicon Valley entrepreneur Ajay Bhutoria has been a top “bundler” (a political fundraiser who collects contributions from donors on behalf of a campaign) for the Democrats.
Bhutoria was elected as a Biden delegate earlier this year and serves on the National Finance Committee for Biden. This election cycle, he also produced a campaign video titled “Chale Chalo, Biden, Harris ko vote do” (Keep moving forward, vote for Biden and Harris) to the tune of a song from the popular Hindi film ‘Laagan’ aiming to reach out to Indian-Americans.
Bhutoria said Indian-Americans’ contributions have come this year in spite of the pandemic.
"I’ve been working on the Finance Committee for Joe Biden raising money, and our community has been extremely generous in giving the funds needed to support this campaign, despite COVID-19," he told various media outlets.
Thomas Abraham, the founder and Chairman of the Global Organisation of People of Indian-origin (GOPIO), said there was a large groundswell of support from the Indian community for Biden and Harris and he expects this to continue in the future.
“Kamala Harris joining the Biden ticket was a great honor and prestige for the Indian-American community. In spite of the close Trump-Modi relation, the community went with the Biden-Harris ticket. One major outcome of the Indian-American community support will be a large number of political appointments by the Biden Administration, even some cabinet-level appointments. There are a large number of bright and qualified candidates who could be brought in to work for the new administration since the country has many problems to tackle, ie the pandemic and economic slowdown,” Abraham said.
India and the USA have developed close ties across multiple levels during the Trump Presidency, from the formation of the Quad in 2017 to the 2+2 treaty signing in October. President Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also demonstrated a close personal rapport and political experts in India had commented that the Ministry of External Affairs seemed to have been expecting a second Trump term and had planned accordingly.
So what changes will a Biden Presidency have on US-India relations? Not too many, say most experts.
In fact, according to Akshobh Giridharadas, a journalist and public policy director in Washington DC, India-US relations will remain strong irrespective of who comes.
"In the last three decades, since the Vajpayee-Clinton era, India and the United States have had every permutation-combination of Democrat, Republican, Congress and BJP leaders at the helm. I expect PM Modi to have the same bonhomie with Biden, that he did with Trump and Obama. Also, it is important to note that Modi now becomes the first PM since Indira Gandhi to deal with three different American Presidents," he added.
The US-India Business Council (USIBC), which develops and deals with economic and financial ties between the two nations, stated that US-India ties have continued to grow and the bilateral partnership has continued to deepen for the past two decades, under both Democratic and Republican Presidents.
“President-elect Biden brings decades of experience advancing US-India ties and played a key role forging the US-India Strategic Partnership in the Obama Administration. Under his leadership, we expect to see a continued bipartisan focus on India and a broad-based approach to India and the Indo-Pacific that touches strategic, security, and economic issues, alongside climate, health, education, science and technology,” USIBC said.
Dr Abraham stated that the MEA’s implied endorsement of Trump would be “a terrible mistake” but would most likely not affect US-India relations, in which “the tremendous support from the Indian-American community for the Biden-Harris ticket” would be a mitigating factor.
Political experts have also touched upon Harris’ comments criticising the abrogation of Article 370 and the CAA in India as potential points of conflict, but others have countered that the recent cooling of relations with China have led to the US looking to India as a potential balancing point.
“Politically, the most important factor is that India has bipartisan support among the House Representatives and Senators of both political parties,” Dr Abraham said. “We can expect the Biden administration to do a thorough review of the COVID situation and will make changes to curtail the spread and get an early vaccine. The Biden administration will make prudent decisions, vis-à-vis South Asia and China, as well.”
All in all, it is clear that the Indian community in the United States now represents a force to be reckoned with in the coming future.