Modi & Midterms: Will Joe Biden Continue Understanding India On Russia-Ukraine?

On Russia-Ukraine, New Delhi has so far handled things with finesse, aided by an understanding Biden Administration

4 min read

The American midterm elections ended on Tuesday. As per their system, all the 435 seats of their lower House of Representatives were up for election along with 34 of the 100 seats of the upper house— the Senate. In addition, there were elections to the governors of 36 states and to most of the lower houses in the various states.

By all accounts, the Democratic Party has exceeded expectations— its own and that of political observers'. Indeed, President Biden is celebrating the outcome as a victory. The big loser in the elections is Donald Trump whose politics are now being blamed for the Republicans' sub-par performance.

Given its sheer scale, the election outcome has implications for domestic and international politics. Just how they will do so, especially for India, is of considerable interest given the agitation of global politics arising from the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

This is a churn which has caught India right in the middle, though in all fairness, New Delhi has so far handled things with finesse, aided by an understanding Biden Administration.

Who Will Have the Senate?

But the bottom line remains that the Democrats will lose control of the House of Representatives to the Republican Party. And we will not know how the Senate will function till the runoff election in Georgia on 6 December, triggered by the fact that neither candidate reached the required 50 per cent vote threshold.

A Republican takeover of one of the two houses of the US parliament will complicate the Biden Administration’s agenda for the next two years. Playing for the 2024 Presidential elections, the Republicans will use their authority in one of the two houses to launch investigations aimed at embarrassing the Administration.

And if the Republicans gain control of the Senate as well, it will make life difficult for the administration in terms of confirming officials and judges proposed by them.

But having passed three major bills—the Infrastructure law, the CHIPS and Science Act and the Inflation Reduction Act that will introduce USD 2 trillion in spending over the next two years, the Democrats are in a comfortable position. They are likely to use the Republican tactics in the coming two years to label them as being obstructionist.


Will Biden-Trump Compete in Presidential Race?

The country continues to be in the grip of a cultural civil war which bodes ill for its future. On one hand, the Republicans have sought to transform anger against inflation and crime into a winning strategy while on the other, the Democrats have responded to the accusations of extremism and complaints about the restrictions on abortion.

With the Presidential election set to take place in 2024, there is a lot of speculation as to what the results will mean for them. The biggest question will be as to who will be the candidates of the two main parties. Will Joe Biden run again?

Considering that Tuesday’s elections were not quite the washout that many anticipated, Biden’s standing in his party will be strengthened. However, the 80-year-old President has yet to declare if he will be the candidate which would involve him in another term that would end when he is 86.

Will Trump run ? This looks less likely now considering that the expected Republican wave did not occurred. Moreover, the other potential Republican candidate, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has made a strong showing in his re-election as governor. Already the knives are out for Trump. Many of his favoured candidates lost and he is being blamed for the party’s underwhelming performance in the elections.


Midterms, Modi and the India Impact

How does the election outcome affect India ? Actually not significantly. New Delhi has been in a sweet spot with Uncle Sam for a while. So, while things would go famously with Trumpists dominating the House of Representatives, the Biden team has been sufficiently accommodating and has helped India navigate the turbulence in the global system generated by the Ukraine war.

There is, of course, a bit of history between Trump and Modi. At the beginning of election year 2020, probably convinced of his win, Trump was feted by the Modi government in his first visit to India. A special rally titled “Namaste Trump” was held  at the Narendra Modi Stadium (aka Motera stadium) in Ahmedabad where over a lakh of people participated. This was in some ways a return favour to Trump’s participation at the “Howdy Modi” event in Houston in September 2019. Both rallies were aimed at showing the world that Modi and Trump enjoyed a special and personal relationship.

Currently, we have seen that the Biden Administration, though not particularly too enamoured of India, has continued to cut considerable slack to New Delhi. It has been understanding of its position on the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the continuing talks and, indeed, rising Indian oil imports from Russia.

However, the US is yet to have an ambassador in New Delhi, though high-level meetings at the foreign minister and foreign secretary take place regularly.

Meanwhile, the two countries continue to maintain their close defence ties. One has to wait and see US, India and Australia's engagement in the long-running Malabar exercise to be hosted by Japan.

Last month, the US and India had a mountain warfare exercise near the Chinese border in Uttarakhand. These events have little or no relationship to the political developments in the US.

(The writer is a Distinguished Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi)

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