India, US: Drifting apart? | Deccan Herald

Clipped from: biden

Statements issued by India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and the White House on the recent conversation between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Joe Biden provide an early warning of issues that could become irritants, or worse, in the bilateral relationship in the coming months. Both statements highlighted convergence on a rule-based global order, a free and open Indo-Pacific and shared commitment to democratic values. Convergence on these issues suggests that there is ample scope for cooperation on several global issues, including concerns over an increasingly aggressive China. However, details mentioned in one statement and ignored in the other indicate that New Delhi and Washington may not be on the same page when it comes to strategies. Thus, while the US readout referred to “working together… through the Quad,” the MEA statement makes no mention of the grouping, suggesting that New Delhi remains uncertain over how far it is ready to go in joining hands with Washington to take on China. The two sides seem to have differences on the unfolding events in Myanmar, too; while the US statement calls for upholding the democratic process in Myanmar, the MEA statement is silent on the matter.

Both statements express commitment to democratic values. The White House statement highlights Biden’s “desire to defend democratic institutions and norms around the world.” In the past, India may have echoed this desire or brushed it aside as mere lofty rhetoric that is often expressed in summit statements. That it finds no mention in the MEA statement is telling. Read alongside recent US reactions to developments in India, Biden’s interest in defending democratic norms abroad is not something that pleases the Modi government, given the perception among key voices and players in the US of a democratic regression in India. With regard to the farmers’ protests, for instance, the US State Department batted for the right to peaceful protest. The India Caucus in the US Congress has called on the Modi government to adhere to democratic norms in dealing with the protests.

India can expect greater scrutiny of the health of its democracy by the Biden administration. The Modi government’s excessive and puerile reaction to tweets by Americans on its handling of the farmers’ protest suggests that it will not take criticism in its stride. All this portends the beginning of a cold phase, or worse, in India-US relations, and that won’t do any good to either country in the prevailing economic and geopolitical situation.  

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