Will Modi Find an Audience With Biden On His Upcoming US Visit?
The US State Department has left the question of a Biden-Modi meeting hanging in the air.
Overtly, India is engrossed in handling the fallout of the Taliban takeover, opening communication channels with the new Afghan regime, hosting Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) chief William J Burns and top Russian security official Nikolay Patrushev, and tapping into the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and BRICS in our national interest and to make our presence felt in the neighbourhood and beyond.
But covertly, the Ministry of External Affairs, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and multiple agencies, including the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), are currently preoccupied — or rather obsessed — with a single goal: somehow swing an audience for Prime Minister Narendra Modi with US President Joe Biden.
A Tentative Assurance
It has been officially announced that Modi will visit the US, covering New York and Washington, from 22 September to 27 September. The provisional list of speakers released by the United Nations (UN) shows that Modi will address the annual high-level UN General Assembly session in New York in person on 25 September.
But the US State Department is tormenting New Delhi by deliberately leaving the question of a Modi-Biden meeting hanging in the air. I don’t think that Modi would have planned and announced his US visit without at least a tentative assurance that he could call on Biden.
Travelling to the US and returning to India without a one-on-one with POTUS would be too demeaning for the elected Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy. Hence, Modi, who is very conscious of his own image, must have finalised and publicised his US trip only after some sort of assurance. But the long wait for a confirmation from the White House is extremely agonising for New Delhi.
Keeping Modi on tenterhooks and fanning anxiety, uneasiness and suspense, is the latest manifestation of the Biden administration’s casual approach towards the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government.
The US Abandoned India In Afghanistan
Last month, the US denied India a diplomatic outpost at the Kabul airport citing a space crunch. It purposefully kept India at arm’s length, even refusing Indian diplomats helicopter rides from the Green Zone, where embassies are located, to the Kabul airport, exposing our officials to grave physical threats on ISI-infested lawless roads.
Fortunately, we were not waylaid because the Taliban guaranteed the safety of our convoy and kept their word. The Taliban proved friendlier and more helpful than the Americans in India’s hour of need.
In any case, a minefield awaits Modi in the US even if Biden decides to let him into the White House. To please Biden, Modi is sure to carry in his pocket a long shopping list of arms. During previous visits, too, Modi carried comprehensive weapons inventories to please the US President. But times have changed, and buying arms will no longer be enough to ensure a red carpet welcome.
Modi was comfortable in the environment former President Donald Trump had built in the US. But that political landscape has changed drastically, putting Modi at a great disadvantage on American soil. He will have to contend with the Democratic Party’s belligerent and articulate Left-wing, which has time and again raked up the Modi regime’s repression of Muslims.
Some Democrats Aren’t Particularly Fond of Modi
Remember Rashida Tlaib, the lone Palestinian American in the US Congress, who buttonholed Biden in May at the Detroit airport and articulated her concerns over the government’s pro-Israeli stance at the cost of Palestinian lives? She forced Biden to dial the then Israeli PM, Benjamin Netanyahu, and order him to back off and accept a ceasefire proposed by Egypt.
Tlaib is one of the stars of the progressive Left that helped Democrats unseat the Republicans, and the group has now clearly acquired the capability to change foreign policy. The same Tlaib moved a resolution in the Congress in November 2019 slamming the BJP regime for revoking Article 370 of the Constitution and trampling upon human rights in Jammu & Kashmir.
Tlaib has, for company, the fiery Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Pramila Jayapal and Senator Bernie Sanders — vehement critics of Israel’s bulldozing of Palestinians — who have also put the Modi government in the dock over Kashmir and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) that openly targets Muslim immigrants. In 2020, when Trump inked a defence deal with India, Cortez lashed out, saying, “President Trump is signing arms deals with Modi while his administration is ethnically cleansing the country’s religious minorities.”
Modi’s Mistakes in Houston and Ahmedabad
Modi could also be cold-shouldered for openly canvassing for Republicans in Houston in September 2019 and at Ahmedabad in February 2020. It was a blunder on Modi’s part to poke his nose in the domestic politics of another country. Moreover, backing Trump showed how ill-informed the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and the RAW were about the electoral mood in the US. And to make matters worse, Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar cancelled a meeting with the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee on the ground that one of the members of the meeting — Jayapal — would “harangue” him.
Modi’s trip to the US will be his second overseas visit this year. On Sheikh Hasina’s invitation, he visited Dhaka on March 26-27 as the chief guest at the 50th anniversary celebrations of Bangladesh’s independence. But public anger over Amit Shah’s description of Bangladeshis as “termites” and “infiltrators” erupted during Modi’s visit.
The Associated Press reported that “thousands in Dhaka waved their shoes as a sign of disrespect to Modi” and shouted anti-India and anti-Modi slogans. As demonstrations intensified, the police opened fire, killing 13 protesters. The unofficial death toll was 17. Never before had any Indian Prime Minister’s visit led to such a bloodbath in the host nation.
After such an ominous start, I would keep my fingers crossed over Modi’s second overseas visit and pray hard that it goes smoothly and doesn’t tarnish the Prime Minister’s or the country’s image.
(SNM Abdi is a distinguished journalist and ex-Deputy Editor of Outlook. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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