Trump or Biden, a diplomatic churn in Indo-US ties on anvil

Trump or Biden, a diplomatic churn in Indo-US ties on anvil
Donald Trump and Joe Biden. Design: Onmanorama

Unlike the last US presidential elections, the Indian foreign policy establishments in Delhi and Washington are prepared for a Trump victory as well as a defeat this time.

For years ago, the Indian foreign policy influencers were shocked by the sudden removal of foreign secretary Sujata Singh from the post by the Narendra Modi government.

The then Indian ambassador to Washington S Jaishankar – the present external affairs minister -- was named as her successor. He was asked to take charge quickly.

Indian diplomats had an inkling that Democrat Hillary Clinton would win against her Republican rival Donald Trump, as she was leading in the opinion polls.

Even if Trump is unseated by Democratic challenger Joe Biden or Trump continues for a second term, the trioka of Jaishankar,

foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla and present ambassador to US T S Sandhu are favourably disposed to both the camps now. Interestingly, Sandhu was Jaishankar's deputy and was holding fort when the election results stunned the world.

Trump won by virtue of getting more electoral college votes than Hillary, though she had more popular votes in her kitty. Most of Trump's key advisers had never served earlier in government and Sandhu had to toil to establish contacts not only with Trump's advisers but also the new Republican leadership. The government quickly shifted the Indian High Commissioner to United Kingdom Navtej Sarna from London to Washington.

Jaishankar also rushed to Washington to meet up with the transition team and called on key Trump advisers, accompanied by Sarna and Sandhu.

But the diplomatic shuffles continued as the government appointed Sandhu as the High Commissioner to Sri Lanka.

Sandhu presented his credentials in Colombo a fortnight before Trump was sworn in. But the bonhomie between Trump and Modi during their first meeting in Washington was a thumbs up for the new team.

In November, 2018, Sarna retired and was replaced by Shringla, but within a year, Shringla was recalled to Delhi and appointed foreign secretary.

A visit to India by Trump was on the cards.

Sandhu was the choice to be the US ambassador as he was closely involved in Trump's maiden

visit to India, which was hailed as a big success with the road show in Ahmedabad, visit to Taj Mahal and the official talks in Delhi.

Sandhu has also been handling the ups and downs in the trade negotiations,liaising with commerce minister Piyush Goyal and his team and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. But the onset of pandemic has delayed the signing of even a limited trade agreement between the two countries.

Even while maintaining strong relations with the Trump administration, the Indian team in Washington is in regular touch with the Joe Biden team, many of whom were in the Obama administration, as Biden was vice president for eight years during Obama presidency.

Even though Jaishankar had cancelled a meeting with a committee of the Democrat-dominated House of Representatives, Indian officials insist that relations with the both the warring camps are excellent, as India does not get involved in domestic politics of other countries.

As elections to the two houses will also be held along with presidential polls, the Indian team is now assessing whether the US Senate, which handles major foreign policy legislation, will remain in Republican control or will sway to the Democrats.

Interestingly the inauguration of Donald Trump in January, 2017, saw the same-day exit of US ambassador to India, Richard Verma, a political

nominee of Obama. Thus if Biden wins, the present ambassador Kenneth Juster, who has played a big role in deepening security cooperation, would have to quickly pack his bags.  

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