Biden’s Republic Day Snub: Will it Reverse the Strides Made in India-US Ties?

The US wants to insulate its ties from the fallout of the Pannun case but it might not be smooth sailing.

4 min read
Hindi Female

Media reports confirm that President Joe Biden will not be coming to New Delhi to be the chief guest at the 2024 Republic Day celebrations. There was informed speculation that India was trying to organise a Quad summit in conjunction with Biden’s visit for which the Australian and Japanese Prime Ministers would also come to Delhi.

Yesterday, government 'sources’ told the media that the Quad summit will be held later in 2024, thereby, indicating that Biden would not be visiting India in January for the Republic Day.

An invitation to a foreign leader to be the chief guest on Republic Day is a great diplomatic honour that India bestows on him/her and the country he/she leads. It is also the highest-level state visit in the Indian diplomatic calendar.

In order to ensure that no diplomatic embarrassment is caused, these visits are not announced unless they are formally accepted. Initially, only soundings are made and eventualities are kept confidential.

US Envoy's Breach Of Diplomatic Protocol

In the case of India’s invitation to Biden to be the chief guest for the forthcoming Republic Day, it would appear that the invitation was extended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Biden during their meeting in Delhi in September when the US President came to participate in the G20 summit.

There is no mention of the invitation, though, in the Joint Statement of the meeting because it could not be revealed until the US side had confirmed it.

On 20 September, however, the erratic and obviously loose-tongued US ambassador to India, Eric Garcetti, told an Indian journalist, on record, that Biden had been invited by Modi to be the chief guest for Republic Day 2024.

This was not the first time that Garcetti had broken diplomatic protocol.


The Pannun Factor 

In July this year, Garcetti had, gratuitously, offered US intervention in Manipur issues even while conceding that it was India’s internal matter. He had also said that the US had 'human concerns’ in Manipur. India had virtually let these objectionable comments pass.

At that stage, this writer had written in a national daily that Garcetti should be called into the Ministry of External Affairs and given a dressing down. Had that been done he would surely become cautious. And, the great embarrassment he has caused on the Biden-Republic Day invitation matter could have been avoided.

It is noteworthy that the indirect announcement that Biden would not be visiting Delhi for Republic Day was made only six weeks before 26 January. Now, a Republic Day guest would have to be invited at short notice.

This is obviously not diplomatically desirable. Hence, it appears that India and the US were in intense consultations to find a way for Biden to come for Republic Day and to also organise a Quad summit along with his visit. That would have been projected by the Modi government as a diplomatic achievement.

Instead of that, it would have to face speculation on the reasons that have led Biden to avoid coming to Delhi.

The first question that will be asked is if Biden’s decision is related to the Pannun matter. All US officials, including at the cabinet level, have stated that their country takes the case seriously. They have welcomed the inquiry that India has established in the case and have said that they are awaiting its results.


Challenges for Indo-US Ties

Recently, the FBI director was in India and there is no doubt that the Pannun case would have been discussed.

Certainly, the US wants to insulate the larger India-US relationship from the fallout of this case but it might not be smooth sailing because judicial processes acquire a life of their own. Also, the US while deciding on the Biden visit may have wanted some idea of how far could India go in cooperating in the Pannun matter.

Obviously, India cannot self-incriminate itself in this matter. So, India will not be in a position to give any assurances at this stage. And, it is impossible to conceive that India would ever send an official to be tried in a US court.

Thus, all in all, while taking a decision on the Biden visit, the Pannun case would have been a factor for it would have inevitably drawn media scrutiny prior to and during the visit.

Both the US and India may have found these troubling to handle.


Limited Foreign Travels Part of 2024 Election Strategy

Apart from the Pannun issue, Biden’s domestic preoccupations now demand that he devote almost his entire attention to his re-election bid. This means that he will have to greatly limit his foreign travels, especially, because his ratings are low.

It is also clear that unless something unforeseen occurs, he will have to face Donald Trump as the Republican nominee. Despite all efforts made by the Democrats and his Republican rivals, Trump’s base remains intact.

Meanwhile Biden’s position in some crucial states, such as Georgia and Michigan, according to some reports, has fallen. Biden’s age will be a factor he will have to handle in his campaign – he will be a few weeks shy of 82 when the 2024 Presidential elections are held. Trump is only three and a half years younger but appears more vigorous.

All in all, Biden will have to prioritise his foreign travels especially, beginning in January and clearly a visit to India for Republic Day did not fall within his foreign travel priority.

His main foreign policy concerns are handling the Israel-Hamas war and the continuing war in Ukraine. These may influence the US voters though their choices are mainly governed by domestic issues, especially the state of the economy.

Biden’s decision does not mean that the India-US relationship will be adversely impacted for there is bipartisan support for taking it forward particularly to address US’s Indo-Pacific concerns against China.

However, the US has begun taking a greater interest in India’s western neighbourhood and that may not be in harmony with Indian interests.

(The writer is a former Secretary [West], Ministry of External Affairs. He can be reached @VivekKatju. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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Topics:  Narendra Modi   Joe Biden   Republic Day 

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