Saturday 21 March 2020

A Biden-Harris ticket would energise Democrats (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

Kamala Harris would better meet the needs of voters who have received the dirty end of the stick in the US economy.

Just as national elections in India matter to US policymakers, elections there—especially to the US Presidency, the House of Representatives and the Senate—are important for India, a country that three Prime Ministers and three US Presidents in succession have brought together into what may be described as an alliance that dare not speak its name, for fear of inviting blowback from the historically reliably pro-Soviet Congress Party and the Communist parties within India. Some countries on the outside would also be uneasy at a coming together of New Delhi and Washington, these principally being Moscow, Islamabad and Beijing. The European Union would prefer a continuation of the present predisposition of several within the foreign policy establishment in India to prefer the EU to the US as the lead partner rather than lock onto the latter the way the GCC and Japan have done. In the past, it was Israel that developed what may be described as a “closet closeness” with India. Even during the 1960s, a period when Yasser Arafat was both calling for the end of Israel as well as hugging Indira Gandhi in public whenever the opportunity arose, the canny Prime Minister who in 1971 detached Bangladesh from the clutches of Pakistan ensured that Moshe Dayan was a welcome guest in her inner circle. The Israeli hero of the 1967 war would land into a military aerodrome near Delhi and be brought by car at night to the capital, escorted by disciplined (and discreet) military officers. Such visits were for both his insights as to how to prevail in battle, as well as ensure access to the technologies used by Israel to ensure its security against what till the 1967 war was a formidable phalanx of foes. From that period onwards, despite multiple UN votes and countless official statements against the Jewish state, Israel has remained a reliable ally where supply of critical equipment and insights are concerned. It took PM Narendra Modi to escape from the closet and visit Jerusalem to openly embrace Prime Minister Netanyahu in a fashion that his predecessors had lacked the courage to do. Even Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee suffered from a phobia of admitting in public how closely linked Israel and India were in matters of security. When this columnist, together with JINSA, organised the first ever India-Israel-US trilateral in early 2003 at the India International Centre, New Delhi, strenuous efforts were made by the then “Executive PM” Brajesh Mishra to get the conference cancelled. Once that mission failed, his next move was to get cancelled all VVIP appointments made for the delegates from Israel and the US. It speaks for the character of Deputy PM L.K. Advani, Defence Minister George Fernandes and most notably President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam that each of them met the Trilateral Conference delegations “informally” in their residences, to much gnashing of molars by individuals close to Vajpayee. National Security Advisor Mishra, on being told that the conference would not be cancelled, had warned darkly that the entire Muslim world would club India with the US and Israel as forming a gigantic—and mythical—“Hindu-Jewish-Christian” alliance against them. This columnist had—and continues to have— confidence that the Muslim community is as progressive and moderate as those belonging to any other faith in India, and the threatened blowback at the India-Israel-US trilateral failed to materialise. Indeed, among those who graciously hosted the US and Israeli delegations to dinner were filmmaker Muzaffar Ali at his farm and Nafees Fazal at the Viswa Yuvak Kendra. Ms Fazal, among the most senior lady politicians of the time, was then the Medical Education Minister of Karnataka.
In the US, Joe Biden is on course to be the Democratic Party nominee for the 2020 US Presidential election. His opponent Bernie Sanders made the cardinal error of following the example of Jeremy Corbyn and embracing not mainstream Muslims but the Wahhabi fringe, choosing a Pakistan-centric individual as his Chief of Staff. The main goal of this individual was to earn brownie points with GHQ Rawalpindi by getting Sanders to release one toxic statement after the other about India. An Erdogan acolyte, Representative Ilhan Omar, went around the country as the lead campaigner for Sanders, ensuring that Biden gained substantially over Sanders wherever Omar spoke. But although he may have once again failed to win the Democratic Party nomination, Senator Sanders genuinely cares about the poor. His very presence in the field has moved the Democratic Party away from the camouflaged elitism of the Clinton machine, which for long dominated the party machine and which is now prodding Biden to anoint Senator Amy Klobuchar as his running mate rather than the feisty Kamala Harris, who would better meet the needs and aspirations of voters who have long received the dirty end of the stick so far as the US economy is concerned. The selection of Kamala Harris as his running mate by Biden would be an acknowledgement by the 74-year-old that he has truly imbibed the spirit of the revolution in politics (and in society) spearheaded by the rise to the Presidency of Barack Obama. A Biden-Harris ticket would pose a grave challenge to President Donald Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence. There has been talk that Trump may replace Pence with Nikki Haley, but this is unlikely. Vice-President Pence has shown his loyalty to a boss not easy to handle or to please, and has demonstrated skills in administration which have helped the overall image of the Trump Presidency. Not just that, but Pence has deep links with the religious establishment in the US that would be essential for Trump’s victory in the November polls. What is more likely is that the charismatic Haley will be made Secretary of State should Trump prevail over Biden, and perhaps become the Vice-Presidential candidate in 2024, should Mike Pence run that year for the job that brought Trump to the White House.
The challenge before President Trump is less Biden than it is the economy. If economic stabilization does not take place by the middle of 2020 and the effects of Covid-19 on the economy not get shaken off by August, the Republican ticket will face headwinds across the slateboard during the elections. Whoever wins in 2020, what is certain is that the US-India “closet alliance” will continue and be strengthened. Both sides need each other to ensure that the two biggest democracies continue to lead in matters of both security as well as the economy. US citizens who are more loyal to GHQ Rawalpindi than to American interests may not be happy about this, but the alliance of the world’s two biggest democracies is here to stay.

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