Diaspora: Great asset for emerging India-US partnership
Indian-American community led by the influential bipartisan Congressional India Caucus plays an important role in nurturing India-US relations
The US sees India as an important ally and it is widely acknowledged that the Indian-American community, led by the influential bipartisan Congressional India Caucus, plays a very important role in nurturing and deepening this relationship
Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently said that a new world is taking shape and that India will have a big role to play in it over the next decade while continuing with its ‘Vasudaiva Kutumbakam’ (the world is one family) ethos. Cut to the US-- where it’s 46th President, Joe Biden, has spelt out his policy for engagement with the rest of the world in the backdrop of a vast changing geopolitical environment; rejuvenating alliances will be his focus as “they are America’s greatest asset”.
In the first two months of 2021, the world’s oldest democracy (the US) and the world’s most populous democracy (India) have signalled determined and enthusiastic intent for creating a paradigm for engagement in this emerging new world order. It, therefore, would not be farfetched to presume that the Indian Diaspora might contribute significantly to this objective.
The Indian Diaspora makes up approximately 1.2 percent of the US population (about four million). After Chinese Americans and Filipino Americans, they are the third largest group of Asian Americans. A recent survey of Indian Americans carried out by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, John Hopkins-SAIS and the University of Pennsylvania in partnership with YouGov found that 49 percent have given thumbs up for Prime Minister Modi’s leadership; 36 percent felt India is on the right track and 35 percent were pro-India in their feelings.
The US sees India as an important ally and it is widely acknowledged and accepted that the Indian-American community, led by the influential bipartisan Congressional India Caucus, plays a very important role in nurturing and deepening this relationship.
Few can forget the sterling role played over a period of three years (2005-2008) by the India Caucus in the signing and passing of the landmark civil nuclear agreement between both countries, or in legislatively designating India as a major defence partner of the US, overcoming as Prime Minister Modi said, “hesitations of history". Of late, it has taken a leadership role in trying to resolve issues raised by Indian farmers as agriculture is one sector where the US sees huge potential for bilateral cooperation.
Though there exists a school of thought that puts a question mark on the India-US relationship, by and large there is a belief that both the nations and their people possess enough complementarities and synergies that define the best in that ever evolving partnership, and this is especially visible now in times of geopolitical churning.
The initiatives and pronouncements made by the new Biden administration in the first two months of 2021 are a pointer to where the US-India relationship is at currently.
For starters, President Biden has either nominated or named at least 20 Indian Americans, including 13 women, to key positions in his administration. This is a new record in itself for this ethnic community as at least 17 of them could soon be part of the all powerful White House in Washington D.C.
Apart from Vice President Kamala Harris, these other Indian American luminaries are:
Neera Tanden (nominated as Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget)
Dr Vivek Murthy (nominated as the next US Surgeon General)
Vanita Gupta (nominated as Associate Attorney General Department of Justice)
Uzra Zeya (Appointed as Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights)
Mala Adiga (Appointed as Policy Director to First Lady Jill Biden)
Garima Verma (Appointed as Digital Director of the Office of the First Lady)
Sabrina Singh (Named as Deputy Press Secretary to the First Lady)
Aisha Shah (Named as Partnership Manager at the White House Office of Digital Strategy)
Sameera Fazili (Deputy Director at the US National Economic Council in the White House)
Bharat Ramamurti (Deputy Director at the US National Economic Council in the White House)
Gautam Raghavan (Deputy Director in Office of Presidential Personnel)
Vinay Reddy (Director for Speechwriting)
Vedant Patel (Assistant Press Secretary to the President)
Tarun Chhabra (Senior Director for Technology and National Security)
Sumona Guha (Senior Director for South Asia)
Shanthi Kalathil (Coordinator for Democracy and Human Rights)
Sonia Aggarwal (Senior Advisor for Climate Policy and Innovation)
Vidur Sharma (Policy Advisor for Testing for the White House COVID-19 Response Team)
Neha Gupta (Associate Counsel in the Office of the White House Counsel)
Reema Shah (Deputy Associate Counsel in the Office of the White House Counsel)
Pritesh Gandhi (Chief Medical Officer in the Department of Homeland Security)
These are significant nominations, whose appointments are expected to be confirmed by the US Congress.
A further impetus has been given to the Indian Diaspora by the Biden administration’s decision to withdraw a Trump Era rule to rescind work authorisation for spouses of a select group of H-1B visa holders. It has to be seen as a huge relief for Indian American community that was staring at an uncertain future during the previous Trump regime which sought to take away work from them in an effort to “protect American jobs for Americans”.
Prior to the Trump administration move; Indians had been the largest recipients of H1-B visas, accounting for more than 70 percent of the annual 85,000 persons’ eligible persons. President Biden has also announced plans to increase the number of refugees allowed to enter the US from 15,000 to 125,000 from October onward.
At the multilateral level, we are seeing the world’s two main democracies increasingly veering towards a convergence of views vis-à-vis the Indo-Pacific region.
Taking its stance that India is an ally that best mirrors the US values of “a strong democracy and freedom", the Biden administration recently announced that it sees the four-nation Quadrilateral Security Alliance or QUAD, comprising of the US, India, Japan and Australia, as “a fundamental foundation for the establishment of a substantial American policy in the strategically vital Indo-Pacific region.”
It is now more than three years have passed since the four countries have joined together to strengthen the “QUAD” to neutralise what they perceived to be China’s “dangerous and alarming” expansionist designs in the Indo-Pacific region via its multi-billion dollar Belt Road Initiative (BRI).
The new dispensation in Washington has made its intent clear that these issues will dominate its talks with India. Multilaterally and bilaterally, we can expect both India and the US to find common ground to enhance cooperation in the emerging international order, while maturely dealing with and resolving their disagreements.
In the context of the Diaspora, there is an acceptance by both sides that such communities have mechanisms to highlight issues of interest dear to them in their “home countries”, and there is not a shadow of doubt that Indian-Americans as a community have “played the role of bridge builders.”
Ashok Dixit is a senior journalist. Views expressed are personal.