To be sure, America's relations with India did not feature as a talking point even among Indian American candidates, who focused on community issues, inflation and job creation…
Published: 12th November 2022 09:05 PM | Last Updated: 12th November 2022 09:07 PM | A+A A-
(Express Illustrations | Soumyadip Saha)
With only a few seats left to be declared, the 2022 US midterm election is like the cliffhanger scene from the penultimate episode of a thrilling whodunnit. The predicted red wave did not lash America, but the Republicans did manage a ripple, and flipped some seats in the US House of Representatives, the lower house of the American Congress.
Should India look closely at these elections from a foreign policy lens? Not generally, but there will be some specific impact as we shall see in a while.
The US midterms have, historically, always been about domestic issues, and the 2022 edition was no different. Inflation, jobs, fuel prices, high rates of interest and abortion rights were the main talking points for the national candidates, not the conflict in Ukraine or the tense China-Taiwan situation. Or, for that matter, North Korea’s provocative missile launches in the direction of South Korea and Japan.
To be sure, America’s relations with India did not feature as a talking point even among Indian American candidates, who focused on community issues, inflation and job creation as their primary election themes.
What will happen, however, is that with a Republican-majority House, Joe Biden will end up being a lame-duck President. Since legislation in the US requires the approval of both houses of Congress, merely a Democratic Party-majority Senate won’t help Biden’s legislative agenda, and the chances of a deadlock on several issues are real.
There are two major global issues in which a stalemate is almost a certainty – climate change and the war in Ukraine (the latter is where India’s diplomatic strength and guile will be put to test).
Take climate change. Democrats are pro-legislation in order to mitigate the impact of climate change. Republicans, on the other hand, are mostly climate change deniers, and have repeatedly said they will not support funding for alternative fuels. This is likely to impact the American stance on a global alliance to slow down or possibly reverse climate change.
The Republicans are also pro-stricter immigration laws. It is here that Indians will be impacted the most. In any case, the visa-issuing gridlock has not been resolved, with some visa appointments taking more than a year — or even two — to fructify.
Republican control of the House would mean that for the next two years, there will be little or no progress on immigration issues. If (and this is a big if) the Biden administration wants to bring in a more liberal immigration regime (one that will favour Indian skilled workers), there is no way the Republicans are going to lend their support.
A Republican majority House and a 50-50 or a Democratic 51-49 distribution in the Senate will also pave the way for a more divided America, with former President Donald Trump — who is no friend of the law — provoking grassroots action from his followers to disrupt the investigation into the January 6 Capitol Hill riots.
President Biden was quick to wave the truce flag with the Republicans, even while trying to keep his head high. In a press conference earlier this week, he said November 8 was “a good day for democracy” and that he is “ready to work with Republicans”.
He knows why he is doing this. A Republican majority in the House would mean that they have the power to initiate multiple investigations against the Biden administration. There are four issues on which the Republicans are likely to trouble the Biden White House.
One, his son Hunter Biden’s business relations with China. Two, the botched US withdrawal from Afghanistan and the resulting chaos and erosion of human rights. Three, the lack of any deep investigation into the alleged origins of the coronavirus in a Chinese lab. And four, Biden’s immigration policies.
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In the last two years, there has been substantive legislation on climate change, healthcare and social security — all three issues on which the Republicans don’t see eye to eye with the Democrats. Close victories or not, GOP members will try to make Biden’s remaining two years difficult, if not hellish.
And yes, Biden can say goodbye to any legislation on abortion, immigration, and healthcare.
Ukraine will dominate the Republican-Democrat dynamic, in that the GOP is likely to ask tough questions that will put Biden in a spot. The Biden administration has not, at least overtly, pressured India into changing its stance on the Ukraine situation. India continues to buy cheap oil from Russia and remains one of its main strategic defence partners.
With Republicans wresting control of the House, and the Senate remaining in deadlock, the Biden administration will be forced to get a favourable response from India as a quid pro quo for support for some legislation.
In effect, the next few days will be crucial for both the US as well as for India, especially on the topic of Ukraine where New Delhi will be tested the most.
Sachin Kalbag is Senior Fellow, Takshashila Institution, and a former foreign correspondent based in Washington, DC.
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