Indians have watched the US election season with more than the usual interest. In part, this is because of the slow-motion-car-crash like aspect of this particular campaign, which has plumbed new depths of democratic dysfunction. But in larger part, it is because of a growing awareness that the US is now India’s most important partner. Trade between the two countries has more than quintupled in that period, to exceed $100 billion. The US is India’s second-largest supplier, after Russia, of defence equipment. In broader strategic terms, there is no more vital relationship for New Delhi. So as Americans prepare to exercise their choice on Tuesday, Indians will have a sizeable stake in the outcome. Who, between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, would be better for India?
There is a meme in New Delhi’s political circles that Republican presidents are generally better for India than Democrats. There is some empirical evidence for this, especially in recent years: From India’s point of view, Mr Bush was certainly better than Mr Obama. But it doesn’t automatically follow that Indians should be rooting for Mr Trump over Ms Clinton. For one thing, Mr Trump is hardly a typical Republican. He has used the party’s platform to pursue an inchoate agenda, taking up (or making up) positions that conflict with the Republican ethos, especially in the realm of foreign policy. He has surrounded himself with foreign-policy advisers who can charitably be described as non-professionals. This means a President Trump would likely struggle to fill key positions in his Cabinet with the kind of talent that would reassure India, and the world, that American foreign policy is in safe hands. There is a larger, philosophical question, too. How can a man who boasts about being a sexual predator, routinely lies about his wealth, and espouses racist, xenophobic views, be good for India?
Ms Clinton’s political positions are, at best, slippery: Consider, for example, how she has defended some dictators, like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, while cheering the downfall of others, like Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi. As Mr Obama’s secretary of state, she was unable to make the most of the global goodwill his election generated. But she has demonstrated a pragmatic streak, one that allows hope for a grown-up assessment of American interests. And those interests dictate the continuation of good relations with India. This makes her, rather than him, the obvious choice for Indians.