Caution: Taking a Left Turn

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Rising influence of Left-Islamist-Evangelist network in the Biden administration is a cause of worry for the Modi government, though it is unlikely to impact Indo-US ties

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The Left-Liberals in India were salivating when Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden trounced his Republican counterpart Donald Trump in the recently-held US presidential election. In some quarters, Biden’s victory was celebrated as a defeat of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, thanks to the cordial relations Trump shared with the PM.
After taking oath as President of the US, though Biden has not said or done anything that would give a cause for exaltation–much to the chagrin of the anti-Modi gang in India–the new dispensation, in some of its decisions, has betrayed its biases, leaving no room for speculation, notwithstanding the fact that Indian presence in the US administration has leapfrogged. President Biden had nominated around 20 Indian-Americans, including 13 women, to key positions in his administration. However, the list was conspicuous by the exclusion of the names of two top Indian-Americans who had contributed immensely to the Biden campaign. Sonal Shah and Amit Jani were excluded allegedly due to their links with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
According to reports, Sonal Shah’s father, who has served on Biden’s unity task force, was the president of Overseas Friends of BJP-USA and is the founder of RSS-run Ekal Vidyalaya. Jani was the ‘Muslim Outreach’ coordinator of ‘Name Biden’ campaign. His family reportedly has ties with PM Modi and other BJP leaders. This shows the clout of Left-Islamist-evangelist network in the new dispensation. These forces may continue to create problems for India-US relations and New Delhi.
Ideological inclination of some of the individuals who were picked up by President Biden is a cause for worry. Uzra Zeya, the Indian-American diplomat, who had quit the Foreign Service in 2018 in protest against the policies of US President Donald Trump was appointed Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights. She had played a role in the Devyani Khobragade case that led to souring of Indo-US ties. Samira Fazili, a Kashmiri Muslim, who was nominated as Deputy Director of National Economic Council, had joined protest rallies in the US against the CAA, NRC and the Kashmir lockdown. Aisha Shah is another Kashmiri Muslim in the Biden administration.
With the influence of the anti-India forces increasing and the Biden administration swinging more towards the Left, ‘Hindutva Fascist Modi’ refrain in the West is likely to get louder. Giving a push to the anti-India campaign, 19 Indian-American organisations have written to Biden, asking him to keep individuals associated with ‘Right-wing’ Hindu organisations in India away from the administration. They have unleashed a concerted and relentless campaign against individuals who are supporters of Prime Minister Modi. One of the victims of such strident campaign is Congressional candidate Preston Kulkarni. He lost the election. Evangelists and Communists had mounted a negative campaign against former US Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard also.
Unlike Republicans, Democrats traditionally have a soft corner for Islamists and Pakistan. When India brought in Citizenship Amendment Act, Joe Biden had criticised the move. On the abrogation of Article 370, Kamala Harris said: “We have to remind the Kashmiris that they are not alone in the world. We are keeping a track on the situation. There is a need to intervene if the situation demands.”
Although there was an upswing in Indo-US relations during Obama regime, during his visit to Delhi in January 2015, he sought to lecture India on religious tolerance in the backdrop of a fake ‘Church attacks’ campaign by vested interests. “No society is immune from the darkest impulses of men and too often, religion has been used to tap into those instead of the light of God. Every person has the right to practise any faith or none as he chooses without the fear of prosecution,” he had said.
Another area of concern for New Delhi is the growing presence of pro-Pakistani elements in the Biden administration. Pakistani experts believe that Biden, unlike his predecessor, would renew military-to-military ties. The Biden administration sees Pakistan as an ‘essential partner’ in any peace initiative in Afghanistan. US Defence chief Gen Lloyd J Austin said he believed that “continuing to build relationships with Pakistan’s military will provide openings for the United States and Pakistan to cooperate on key issues”.
Pakistan had played the role of a facilitator in the Taliban-US talks that led to the signing of a deal in February 2020. On the future of Pak-US ties, Amina Khan, director of the Center for Middle East and Africa at the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad, says, “A lot will depend on how the intra-Afghan talks play out and whether the Taliban move towards a reduction of violence and ultimately move towards a ceasefire.” It is learnt that Pakistan has invested a lot on US-based lobbies to take up its cause in the administration. Amina Khan says, “There are several US-based Pakistanis that are close to Biden so they may be able to help in reshaping the relationship.”
Chairman of the Pakistani Senate’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs Mushahid Hussain Syed said that Biden was against the Muslim travel ban imposed by the Trump administration. According to him, Biden wants to revive the nuclear deal with Iran. “On Afghanistan, while he will broadly follow Trump’s policy of withdrawal from Afghanistan, he may retain a small presence for counter terrorism and intelligence purposes,” he added. n