A case for Kamala Harris

The Indian experience of the Trump tenure is one of unpredictability. In Harris, we can have a person bearing no discomfort, anathema or volatility about the constitutional idea of India

The excitement and curiosity among Indians towards the elections to the still most important office in the world ie, the President of the US, jumped several notches with the announcement of the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, Kamala Harris. Expectedly, Kamala’s suitability was immediately slammed by incumbent President Donald Trump, who ungenerously and patently derided her as a “mad woman”, “nasty”, “horrible”, “mean” and even incredulously and ironically, “disrespectful.” Meanwhile, the emotional instinct in India led to jubilation of the first-ever “Indian” to be considered for such a post. This, to counter sentiments that were less charitable owing to partisan preferences that dug out selective statements made by Democrat Party leaders on Jammu & Kashmir, the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), National Register of Citizens (NRC), with them oversimplifying that Trump-Pence would be more favourably disposed towards India than team Joe-Kamala.

Importantly, Kamala Harris is not Indian, she is an American of part Indian origin. She owes her primary brief and loyalty to the US and its constituents and not to India, just as for Trump. Her maternal Indian “connect” is undeniable and, therefore, she would be intrinsically more sensitive, nuanced and will have better understanding of the Indian perspective. But that does not necessarily translate into any unfair bias as that diminishes her fidelity and professionalism towards the “stars and stripes.”

The challenge is the naiveté and instinctive presuppositions with which we prematurely cast potential options as either “pro-India” or “anti-India”, often under appreciating the role of circumstantial, evolutionary and realpolitik that besets reality. Official neutrality notwithstanding, fact is that New Delhi had seemingly punted on a second term for Trump and even shed the usual restraint of partisan preferences, when courting Trump in events like “Howdy Modi” or “Namaste Trump.” These shenanigans did not have the banal sobriety of the typical “Hyderabad House” meetings format.  Instead, they were public spectacles that reeked of reciprocal political affirmations.

New Delhi went one step ahead to publicly spite the Democratic Party’s campaign when the External Affairs Minister refused to meet Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal after she moved a resolution, urging India to end restrictions on communications in Jammu & Kashmir as swiftly as possible and preserve religious freedom of all residents. Certainly, the position adopted by the Congresswoman was inimical and contrarian to that of the Government of India but did it warrant a public snub?

Globally, Indian diplomats engage with a cross-section of politicians (even those with jarring views) to address, clarify and nuance their views. However, the hypersensitivity displayed in this case may have endeared India to Trump’s sensibilities. However, given the “lead” established by the Democrats in the latest polls, it has created a piquant situation for the mandarins in the Indian External Affairs Ministry.

Importantly, the concerns raised by Democratic Senators related to “liberality” and “democratic” rights in India and not “sovereignty” or questioning Kashmir’s integrity. Perhaps usual engagement and clarification could have addressed the issue.

The complexity of the situation is that the presumptive nominee, Kamala Harris, may not even be the “personal” preference of Joe Biden (given their bitter exchanges in the primaries) but it is a matter of electoral mathematics and necessities. Trump’s voter base among the immigrants is fast sinking, the sleight and racism of the “wall” against the largest immigrant base of Hispanics and the unmistakable insinuation of the “Coronavirus” against the second largest base of Chinese ethnicity. Kamala further stitches together the third biggest immigrant base of Indian ethnicities, not to mention consolidate the African-American and women voters.

Indeed, part of the intrinsic Democratic pitch, irrespective of the candidates, is its documented commitment towards liberalism, inclusivity, anti-war stance, pro-environment and pro-immigrant/minority issues that naturally militate against the preferences of democracies that are caught up in the frenzy of uber-nationalism, majoritarianism and perceived illiberalities. So, the nativist instinct or the “strongman” appeal of the Republican leader is often countered with the inclusivist and civic right agenda of the Democrats that could appear wishy-washy and even indecisive. However, the truth is that the Indian experience of the Trump tenure was marked by irascible unpredictability (for example, its unilateral u-turn on Pakistan and with the Afghan Taliban), little accommodation (for example, it threatened India to toe its line on Iran against New Delhi’s regional interests) and frankly more showmanship than support when it mattered (for example,  his continuous and controversial offer to “mediate” in the India-Pakistan realm and the meaningless inanities in the Ladakh violence with China).

The arms supply and sharing of sensitive technology to India made pure commercial sense to the US arms industry.  India is also the only viable “pivot” to Asia, irrespective of the POTUSA or the Government in India. Trump might have dialled up his personal charms on India occasionally but he was also guilty of saying some of the most ungracious and intimidating things to India (for example, the threats during the hydroxychloroquine row).

In case Joe-Kamala win the 2020 elections, the importance and relevance of Kamala Harris is much more substantial than just vice-presidentship as she becomes the default future of Democratic leadership. Biden is 77 years old and Kamala is just 55. Her evolution to the presidential candidature is logical. The politics of the Democratic party is what it is and its moorings are well-known and predictable. The same cannot be said about Trump, who is whimsical and flitting in his decision making. He might appeal to the baser instincts of the uninitiated who may believe in his “hate” for the others but history suggests that all that political muscularity is more posturing, words and theatrics than moral courage or bravery.

The likely post-Covid world of a Democratic tenure in the US will ensure the presidential focus on recovering the economy, healing societal divides and addressing America’s primary concerns in China, the Middle East, Iran and North Korea. This will leave the “next important” issues like NATO, climate change, India-Pakistan or India-China dimensions to the vice presidential candidate, herein, even with her Democratic impulses and values that Kamala Harris will certainly bear. We could be assured of having a person bearing no discomfort, anathema or volatility about the constitutional “idea of India.”

(The writer, a military veteran, is a former Lt Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands)

Source: The Pioneer