Joe Biden surge, Bernie Sanders slump, Elizabeth Warren exit and India
Former vice-president Joe Biden is know for gaffes. And he has made a few mocking and mimicking Indian Americans and Indian accent. But he has rarely been as publicly critical of India as his rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination as Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren recently.
And his sprint to the top of the pack with the emphatic win in the Super Tuesday contests — winning 10 of the 14 states — should be good news for India, even though the race is far from over, and all it takes is a major gaffe, a small misstep for him to go crashing back to the bottom, or out.
India cannot take sides, and not even appear to be doing so. But it can legitimately feel relieved a little, and more so with the exit of Warren from the race. Both have been very critical of recent developments in India, bringing unprecedented attention on India during a US presidential election campaign. West Asia, Europe, Afghanistan have been stock foreign policy issues for these campaigns mostly.
Sanders has been specially critical of India in this, his second, run for the White House. In August, he called for the lifting of restriction in Kashmir and for the US to back a UN-driven resolution of India-Pakistan disputes. A few weeks ago, the senator slammed President Donald Trump for dismissing anti-Citizenship Amendment Act as an internal matter of India during his visit and then criticized the defense deal signed by the two countries at the time and called for them to work together to combat climate change.
Senator Warren, whose son-in-law is from India, expressed “concern” over Kashmir in October, backed Indian America congresswoman Pramila Jayapal in her spat with external affair minister S Jaishankar, and just this past week tweeted about religious freedom and freedom of expression in relation to recent protests in India. And now she is out of the race.
Both Sanders and Warren come from a liberal and progressive wing of the Democratic party, which has become somewhat of a challenge for India in recent months. Jayapal, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, who have been critical of the Kashmir, also belong to the same wing of the party.
Biden, on the other hand, represents moderate Democrats, who have largely stayed away from recent developments in India, though some leading members have backed a resolution moved in the House of Representatives by Jayapal on Kashmir and religious freedom — such as Adam Schiff, the powerful chairman of the House intelligence committee that led Trump’s impeachment investigation.
Biden has also forged a long relationship with India Americans despite the occasional gaffes such as the one from 2006, when, as a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, he had joked that in his home state, Delaware, you had to have an Indian accent to get into certain stores that are run by Indians. mostly. And then, in 2012, he once caught himself mid-sentence while mimicking Indian accent. The community did not hold them against him, not for long though and his 2020 run has been endorsed by a resource-rich political action committee formed to back Asian Americans running for offie, led by Shekar Narasimha, an Indian American who is counted among the most prolific Democratic fund-raisers.
Amit Jani, an Indian American, serves as Biden campaign director for outreach to Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. His influence on the campaign’s foreign policy issues could not be ascertained immediately, but his social media postings show he is a supporter of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Biden’s term as vice-president included a high-profile visit to India at the start of which he posted a target of $500 billion for growing India-US trade, which is still cited as a target, because it has remained out of reach; bilateral trade is nearing $150 billion. And he knows the bilateral relationship well, and the prime minister, whom he had hosted for lunch at the state department in 2014.
And, he has “relatives” in India. Just after he was first elected as US senator from Delaware, he had received a letter from a man in Mumbai who claimed to be a relative. And after he mentioned this during his 2013 visit to India, he was given a list of five Bidens living in Mumbai. “Turns out there was a captain who was my great-great-great grandfather named George Biden who was a captain in the East India Trading Company and when he retired he settled and married an Indian woman and settled in Mumbai,” he said later at an event in 2015.