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US will be more concerned about soybeans and agri-exports to China than India’s farm laws

Washington does not have the political currency to make grandiose statements. Instead, regular concerns will be laced with prosaic and benign verses

February 15, 2021 / 08:10 AM IST

Malcolm Marshall is a name that evokes both respect and fear among the Indian diaspora. Respected for his exploits and feared for how well he delivered those exploits — fierce, swift, and too fast to respond to at times!

His Barbadian compatriot, Rihanna did the same. Well, not quite with blaring vocals this time, but through a tweet that was as loud as her acoustics, and one that much like a Marshall bouncer, left India ruffled and for some a bit bruised.

The response in India was eclectic and cantankerous at the same time with both sides of the aisle alleging that the other had concocted their own version of propaganda.

A Joe Biden administration with Tony Blinken at the foreign-policy steering wheel has signs of the United States returning to a concerted effort of more global engagement, particularly with oomph and a focus on multilateral discourse. Perhaps in this spirit, diplomacy was emphasised in the message from Washington DC, through a statement released by the US Embassy in New Delhi stating, “Washington has also welcomed steps that would enhance the efficiency of India’s markets”.

There is a slight conundrum here.


For too long, Washington’s bugbear with India has been a market that has too much regulation, government intervention and tight-controls that eschew the US’ free-market enterprise system, and counters a Reaganism outlook which states that the ‘government has no business being in business’.

While the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has long abjured Washington’s epithet of India being a “democratic counterweight to China”, DC sees India for the allure of a large market for US multinationals to expand horizons and enrich their coffers.

Perhaps in this spirit, Washington also lucidly added, “we recognize that peaceful protests are a hallmark of any thriving democracy and note that the Indian Supreme Court has stated the same. We encourage that any differences between the parties be resolved through dialogue.”

For long Washington has taken a central role in expressing concern when it comes to freedom to protest and government heavy handedness across the globe.

In the run-up to the US elections, there was an overarching concern in India that the US under a Democratic administration may take a more vociferous tone with India, particularly with regards to sensitive topics such as Kashmir and issues pertaining to human-rights and right to peaceful protests.

But the recent imbroglio of the Capitol Hill attacks, and Washington's close bonhomie with New Delhi, will see the Biden administration take a more cautious approach, one that espouses its concern for democratic norms, but respecting India’s independent integrity to handle its internal affairs.

Polarisation may have temporarily shifted from the policy of the farm laws to the politics of the diatribe and censure that India may have received overseas. The MEA likened the vandalism at the Red Fort on Republic Day to the January 6 attack on the US Capitol, and maintained that there was a temporary Internet shutdown to quell any imminent violence.

While India counters external excoriation and Washington, which has long-held access to information as sacrosanct to democracy, the US is still unlikely to get further involved, and statements will reflect anodyne homilies.

The new-old administration (perhaps to facetiously refer to a new administration with old Barack Obama-era appointees) is wiping the slate clean. Furthermore, Biden’s 100-day agenda is a race to vaccinate people, as the US continues to suffer a healthcare morass and an economic downturn.

There is the unspoken hangover of the reputation of the Donald Trump administration, one that didn’t particularly convey Washingtonian values in its own post-election cycle. The dystopia insidiously unfolded with false accusations of election rigging, and bellicose rallies that ensued in the Capitol Riots, and that then led to Trump being impeached for a second time.

Washington does not have the political currency to make grandiose statements; instead regular concerns will be laced with prosaic and benign verses as evinced from the diplomatic cable.

The new administration is also cognisant that in 2019 Trump made a faux pas seeking to appease the White House press corps and his guest, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, in agreeing to mediate the long-standing Kashmir kerfuffle.

Washington today understands the limits to lecturing to a strategic partner, especially in internal matters that does not have immediate geopolitical repercussions. Furthermore, with a dereliction of multilateralism as evinced under the Trump administration and an economic and healthcare crisis at home, the Biden administration would likely be more concerned on soybeans and other US Agri-exports to China, than India’s farm laws.
Akshobh Giridharadas is a Washington DC-based former journalist. Views are personal.
first published: Feb 11, 2021 10:41 am

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