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FACT CHECK: Biden Presidency Better for India than Trump

A look into how the U.S. Presidential Election impacts India

[reminder - underlined text, with exception of section headers, link to source documents]

Summary

I am an Indian American. I was born and raised here in the greater Chicagoland area, but my family is originally from Gujarat - that's right the land of PM Narendra Modi. In fact, my father was born in Gujarat not long after Independence Day in 1947 - which is to say I was raised to love mother India as much as I love America.

Now, if you're like me, you've probably been forwarded many videos on WhatsApp claiming that Donald Trump is Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's best friend and closest ally. These videos suggest, with no subtlety whatsoever, that a vote for Trump is a vote for Modi.

Similarly, you've probably seen Facebook and WhatsApp posts claiming that Vice President Joe Biden is an anti-India and anti-Modi candidate who wants to teach Islam in schools to convert everyone to the Islamic Faith. Politifact rates this claim as "FALSE."

Is there any truth to any of these claims?

No.

These assertions about each candidate are false. But don't take my word for it - let's check the facts and data. Let's let history, policy, and reliable sources do the talking.

If you take the time to scratch the surface of these claims, what you will undoubtedly see is that Joe Biden, and not Donald Trump, is better for Indian Americans, as well as India as a whole.

This piece will dig into all those details, but if you want the summary version here it goes:

In the nearly 4 years that Donald Trump has been President of the United States he has, with respect to India, taken the following actions:

In truth, save for Trump's photo opportunities with PM Modi in Houston and Ahmadabad, his only "win" with India may be the multi-billion dollar arms deal which will cost India upwards of $3 billion. However, PM Modi is choosing to step away from that deal in order to improve India's own self-reliance with respect to its defense equipment, so that deal can be removed from the win column as well.

When it is all said and done, Trump is simply India's "Photo Friend" and not a real ally. He has taken advantage of the Houston and Ahmadabad events whilst producing no tangible results.

Conversely, the Obama-Biden administration took the following actions:

  • Granted India Major Defense Partners Status

  • Signed $10 Billion Trade Deals with India worth up to $500 Billion

  • Improved Immigration Policies for Indians and Indian Americans

  • Endorsed India to have Permanent Seat on the United Nations' Security Council

  • Supported India against China's Growing Influence in Asia

  • Encouraged and Executed Paris Climate Agreement with India

  • Entered into a Historic Nuclear Energy Deal with India

Moreover, to those that are still enamored with Trump's appearances with PM Modi in Houston and Ahmadabad, remember the following:

  • It was the Obama-Biden administration that first welcomed PM Modi with a grand reception in 2014, including a separate welcome presser led by Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden

  • It was the Obama-Biden administration that was the first ever to make two official State trips to India whilst still in office

  • The Obama-Biden administration was also the first ever to light a Diwali Diya in office

In fact, if you're a keen observer of South Asians in American Politics, you may be aware of the fact that there are 5 Indian Americans in the United States Congress at the moment (Ami Bera, Raja Krishnamoorthi, Pramila Jayapal, Ro Khanna, Kamala Harris) and they are all Democrats - there are no South Asian Republicans in Congress. [Updated: Biden has chosen Kamala Harris for his Vice President.]

The notion that the party that embraces Indian Americans the most, is the most anti-Indian is simply intellectually dishonest.

If you are one of the WhatsApp warriors promoting the notion that Biden is anti-India, consider the following:

While Hindu nationalists are supporting Trump because they believe Biden is anti-Modi, Muslim fundamentalists are supporting Trump because they believe Biden is far too cozy with Modi as a result of his senior advisor, Amit Jani who has strong family ties to the BJP and PM Modi.

The fact that Hindu nationalists are being told Biden is anti-Modi and Muslim nationalists are being told that Biden is pro-Modi should set off serious RED FLAGS! This is pro-Trump propaganda pitting Hindus and Muslims against each other with contradicting messaging. In fact two days ago, US Intelligence officials announced that Russia is once again interfering in the 2020 election by falsely smearing Joe Biden in an attempt to elect Donald Trump. These Facebook posts and WhatsApp propaganda is akin to the work Russian internet farms produced in 2016 as well.

What is not fake news is that Biden has openly stated that India is a "high priority" for his administration in 2020, as it was for the Obama-Biden administration.

If you're willing to take the time dig into the details beyond this summary, you'll learn that this is not a new phenomenon. That since 1959, Democrats have been the party of India - in favor of ensuring that there was at least one large successful democracy in Asia. Conversely, Republicans have always favored strategic military alliances in the region rather than supported the need for a successful social democracy to serve as an example to the world.

Don't believe me? Keep reading...

History

In the late 1950s, the fate of Democracy as an institution was under attack from the communist Eastern Bloc, Russia, Cuba, China, North Korea and others. McCarthyism had already run rampant through the United States a few years earlier. The world was at a tipping point. Would the future be Communist or would it be Democratic?

On May 4, 1959 then Senator John F. Kennedy gave a speech breaking down this crisis and advocating with full force that the United States support India to overtake China at all costs.

"So let there be no mistake about the nature of the crisis – both the danger and the opportunity. And let there be no mistake about the urgency of our participation in this struggle. It is not enough that we participate on a crash basis, for temporary relief. We must be willing to join with other Western nations in a serious long-range program of long-term loans, backed up by technical and agricultural assistance – designed to enable India to overtake the challenge of Communist China. The tool for this program can well be the Development Loan Fund."

When Kennedy became President he further pursued this unrelenting support of India to ensure that a large scale democratic presence in Asia stabilized the region. For this reason, in 1962 Nehru asked Kennedy for aid in India's conflict with China. America indeed armed 6 Indian Mountain Divisions, but Democratic President Kennedy wanted to do so much more for India. He had planned a $500 million aid package for India in its fight against China.

Unfortunately, both Kennedy and Nehru would pass away before such a deal could be finalized.

Enter Republican Richard Nixon who was convinced America's support of India was misguided - referring to it as a physiological disorder.

According to Princeton Professor Gary Bass, "The Americans who most liked India tended to be the ones that Nixon could not stand. India was widely seen as a State Department favorite, irritating the president."

"I don't like the Indians," the author quotes Nixon as saying at the height of the Bengali crisis.

Fast forward a few years to Democrat Jimmy Carter who was just the 3rd US President to visit India while in office. Carter, like Kennedy, also saw the importance of supporting Indian democracy in a turbulent world.

Carter said that “India is the world’s largest democracy. In the past, under Mrs. Gandhi, their primary orientation was towards friendship with the Soviet Union. I would like very much for the people of India and for the Prime Minister, Mr. Desai to know how much we value restoration of the strong ties of friendship, trade and commerce.”

America's desire for better ties with India under Carter was short-lived as Presidents Reagan and Bush turned their attention to Pakistan over India for strategic military purposes. During their 12 years of leadership over America, neither ever visited India while in office.

The Soviet Union had just invaded Afghanistan, and Reagan, sworn opponent of the "evil empire", felt that New Delhi had not opposed it. He pumped billions into Pakistan, gave it F-16s, winked while it went nuclear, and trained and bankrolled the progenitors to Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

This policy view continued on though George W. Bush's Presidency.

On June 16, 2004 Bush, by and through his Secretary of State Colin Powell, announced, "I advised the foreign minister this morning that we will also be making a notification to our Congress that will designate Pakistan as a 'major non-NATO ally' for the purposes of our future military to military relations," Powell told a press conference after meeting his counterpart Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri."Major non-NATO allies are exempt from suspension of military assistance under the American Service members' Protection Act," State Department's deputy spokesman Adam Ereli told a recent briefing in Washington.

You read that right, the Taliban's source of power, and Pakistan's military might can be traced directly to the policies of Reagan, G. H. W. Bush, and G. W. Bush.

By the end of President George H. W. Bush's term as President of the United States, India's economy was on the brink of collapse, requiring a massive IMF bailout in 1991. Enter Bill Clinton...

Democrat President Bill Clinton tried to once again reset America's relationship with India by renewing American support for the largest global Democracy and setting a new strategic alliance for the region.

Clinton's trip to India in 2000 marked the first US Presidential visit to India in 22 years, since President Carter's 1978 visit, and was viewed as a game changer in the relationship between the two nations.

The visit ended the estrangement of the post-1998 Indian nuclear weapons tests. The Indo-U.S. Science and Technology Forum and the Joint Consultative Group on Clean Energy and Environment were also established during the visit.

As India’s economy began to take off, the trip indicated a further shift in Washington’s regional orientation away from its Cold War alliance with Pakistan.

Just as Clinton reshaped America's alliance with India after Reagan and Bush favored Pakistan for strategic military purposes, Democratic President Barack Obama and his Vice President Joe Biden had to repeat the feat following George W. Bush's reversion back to the policies of his father and President Reagan.

"President Obama did make strengthening our ties with India a genuine priority," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters in 2017.

During his presidency, Obama became the only US President to visit India twice. Additionally President Obama and Vice President Biden hosted grand receptions for both PM Manmohan Singh and PM Modi. In fact, Obama's very first State of his Presidency was for PM Singh.

In the 2 years where President Obama's Presidency overlapped with Modi's tenure as Prime Minister of India, the pair met approximately 10 times.

“Had a great discussion with President of the US (POTUS) on India-USA relations,” Modi tweeted after his eighth meeting with Obama.

Obama said that he had always been a friend of India and would continue to be a “strong partner of India and help in any way I can.”

It cannot be denied that President Obama revived America's relationship with India after President Bush's failure to do so.

Under Obama, according to the data available from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, bilateral trade between India and the United States in goods and private services grew nearly 90 percent between 2009 and 2015 and India’s ranking climbed up in the list of U.S. trade partners from twenty-first to eleventh.

In January of 2015, President Obama further announced plans to increase trade volume with India over a five-year period from $107 billion to $500 billion.

During Obama's Presidency, India conducted more annual military exercises with the United States than any other country. In 2015–16 alone, for example, Washington and Delhi conducted several bilateral and multilateral military exercises. In October 2015, both navies participated in Exercise Malabar. The United States and India also conducted army exercises in September 2015 known as “Yudh Abhyas.”

In addition, the United States participated in the International Fleet Review of the Indian navy in February 2016. India joined “Red Flag” in Alaska, a multilateral air force exercise, in April–May 2016. In June–July 2016, India participated in the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) naval exercises, hosted by the U.S. Navy.

Under Obama, India became the second-largest arms market for the U.S. defense industry, after Saudi Arabia. In turn the United Stated became the single largest military supplier to India, surpassing Russia.

Arms sales totaled nearly $17 billion to India in the last five years of Obama's Presidency. The big-ticket items sold to India included the Boeing P-8I Neptune (a version of the U.S. Navy’s P-8 Poseidon antisubmarine aircraft), the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft and the Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules medium cargo transport. Apache attack helicopters and Chinook cargo helicopters also made the list.

In fact, the Indian market for U.S. defense products may expand considerably as India takes a second look at the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet. The deal has the potential of ushering in a qualitatively different relationship, one not of buyer and seller but of co-producers.

As a large and growing power, Obama believed that India would play a critical role in his Asia-America strategy. “I believe that if we’re going to be true global partners, then our two nations must do more around the world together,” Obama remarked on his visit to India in 2015.

President Obama effectively fulfilled President Kennedy's vision of a full throated support of India's Democracy as a symbol to the world that Democracies can thrive together in the face of communism and authoritarian dictatorships. With this in mind, President Obama fully endorsed India for a permanent seat on the U.N.'s Security Council.

“In the years ahead, I look forward to a reformed United Nations Security Council that includes India as a permanent member,” Obama said in a speech to India’s parliament. “I don’t think India is emerging. It has emerged. India is a key actor on the world stage.”

Biden Presidency

The history detailed above should make it clear in no uncertain terms that India has always found greater favor and prosperity under Democratic American Presidents than Republicans.

Vice President Biden pledges to continue that trend saying that if he wins the November elections, strengthening relationship with India, which is the US's "natural partner", will be a high priority for his administration. "India needs to be a partner in the region for our safety's sake, and quite frankly for theirs," he said in response to a question on India-US relationship during a virtual fund raiser event. "That partnership, a strategic partnership, is necessary and important in our security," Biden said when asked at a fundraiser whether India is critical to US's national security.

Referring to his eight years as the vice president, he said, "In our administration I was proud to play a role more than a decade ago in securing Congressional approval for the US-India civil nuclear agreement, which is a big deal." That deal validated India as a nuclear power on the world stage.

"Helping open the door to great progress in our relationship and strengthening our strategic partnership with India was a high priority in the Obama-Biden administration and will be a high priority if I'm elected president," Biden said.

Trump v. Biden : India Scorecard

ECONOMY & TRADE : ADVANTAGE BIDEN

Over the past few years, Donald Trump has revoked India's Special Trade Partner status, levied tariffs on Indian Imports, and entered into no trade deals with India.​

Conversely the Obama-Biden administration entered into multiple economic trade agreements worth up to $500 Billion.

The economic data over the past four years (pre-COVID pandemic) is clear on this matter - under Obama-Biden India's GDP growth increased and under Trump the GDP growth rate has declined. In fact, the Indian economy recorded slowest growth rate in six years during July-September quarter of 2019.

Under Trump:

India GDP growth rate for 2019 was 5.02%, a 1.1% decline from 2018.

India GDP growth rate for 2018 was 6.12%, a 0.92% decline from 2017.

India GDP growth rate for 2017 was 7.04%, a 1.21% decline from 2016.

Under Obama-Biden:

India GDP growth rate for 2016 was 8.26%, a 0.26% increase from 2015..

DEFENSE : ADVANTAGE BIDEN

The Obama-Biden administration granted India Major Defense Partners Status. They elevated India to America's #2 Defense partner, became India's #1 military supplier, entered into military defense deals with India exceeding $17 billion and coordinated large scale joint military training programs.

Obama-Biden also fully endorsed India to become a permanent member of the U.N.'s Security Council and moved to opposed Pakistan's admission to the same UN Security Council, which was sponsored by China.

Unlike President Bush who viewed Pakistan as a strategic ally, Obama-Biden did not shirk at entering Pakistan without their knowledge or consent for a military operation which resulted in the death of Osama Bin Laden.

By contrast, the Trump Administration has only entered into a $3 Billion defense deal with India, which PM Modi has since suspended.

Moreover, Trump has continued to express his support for Pakistan, even in Ahmadabad, as a key strategic military partner for America, which is concerning in light of Trump's well documented affinity for authoritarian dictators.