The US presidential election this year has been billed as the “most consequential election”. It is also a historic election with a contest between the first ever female candidate for the post and a maverick businessman who has never held a public post in that country.
Besides the fact that it would elect the world’s most powerful person, the campaign has held worldwide attention because of the bizarre and unconventional, and even dangerous, worldview of Republican candidate Donald Trump. He has insulted and mocked various sections of the society including martyrs, immigrants, Muslims and even people with physical disabilities. What has added to the shocking views of the man is the revelations about his own degrading and humiliating views about women.
He has been increasingly getting into a self-destructive mode, much to the relief of the rest of the world. A large number of Republican Senators too have publicly distanced themselves from their party candidate and opinion polls are showing the widening margin in favour of his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. A group of 70 influential Republicans, in a letter to the party, recently asked it to stop spending money on Trump’s campaign. “We believe that Donald Trump’s divisiveness, recklessness, incompetence and record-breaking unpopularity risk turning this election into a Democratic landslide”.
There is demand by some senior Republican Party members for Trump to stand down but he has declared that he is in no mood to do so. Though Trump still harbours the dream of occupying the White House, the game appears to be over for him.
The final outcome would be announced after the election in the first week of November, but it is now being assumed that Hillary would emerge as the winner. Some close observers are willing to bet that she would win with a historic margin but the very fact that she would be the first woman to occupy the post in US history would be a landmark in itself. Ironically, several developing and even backward countries like India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh have already achieved the distinction of women heading the government.
Diplomats and foreign affairs experts have been studying the implications of her victory from India’s point of view. Unlike Trump, she is well known in India and has a good understanding and long association with the country. She is familiar with the leadership of the country and has paid several visits in different capacities over the last two decades. Her first visit to the country dates back to 1994 when she was part of a delegation of senators on a tour of South Asia. Three years later she accompanied her daughter to attend the funeral of Mother (now Saint) Teresa.
As secretary of state in the first Barack Obama administration (2009-13), she remained closely associated with Indo-American relations and stood by India on several occasions, especially on the subject of terrorism. She also worked for closer cooperation between the two countries particularly in the spheres of defence and space as well as transfer of high technology.
She was also instrumental in launching a ministerial level strategic dialogue in 2009 focusing on strategic cooperation, energy and climate change, education and development, economy, trade and agriculture, science and technology and health and innovation.
She is known for taking an unequivocal stand against terrorism and had been delivering tough messages to Pakistan to end activities of terrorists operating from that country. She had, as a symbolic gesture, stayed at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai, the site of the 2008 terrorist attack, to drive home a point.
Unlike Trump, she is well known in India and has a good understanding and long association with the country. She is also familiar with our leadership and has paid several visits
She is equally popular in the Indo-American community based in the US. The community has completely backed her in the election campaign and has contributed generously to her campaign funds. She had also been attending various functions organised by the community. The members of the community, to their credit, have also been instrumental in prompting her to take a stand in favour of India at various fora.
But a section of diplomats believe that Hillary Clinton would only be a bad choice from worse. If Trump were to win the election, it was feared that his hardline approach could have led to consolidation of the Muslim world which would have provided further fillip to the terrorist organisations like the IS and Lashkar-e-Taiba. The worst affected could have been countries like India. His tirade against immigrants and loss of IT business to India could have also gone against the interests of India.
Unlike the untested Trump, Hillary Clinton is well known in India and her views are well known to the political establishment and diplomats. She has remained First Lady for eight years, US senator for another eight and then Secretary of State for four years.
Just as there is unlikely to be a political and diplomatic impact after the change of US presidency, economists are of the view that trade relations between the two countries are not likely to be affected. They say that the Indian economy is doing well and expected to remain the fastest growing economy in the next few years. Moreover it is not dependent heavily on the US and has a huge potential for further growth.
But it is also a fact that Republican Presidents have been more inclined towards India. They refer to the fact that the historic India-US nuclear deal was signed when Republican George Bush was the president even as his predecessors from Democratic Party had failed to bring the two countries closer. Even during the Obama regime, despite the bonhomie between him and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, there has been little progress on the ground.
The choice of her running mate Tim Kaine for the post of Vice President has also sounded alarm bells as diplomats are of the view that he is not inclined favourably towards India. They also claim that her likely Chief of Staff could be Huma Abedin, a close aide of Hillary Clinton who is a Pakistani-American, and not known to be friendly towards India.
Kaine, a member of the Senate India caucus which was co-founded by Hillary Clinton in 2004, had recently spoken of the “strategic importance” of US-India relationship growing every year but had also pointed out that “Some members of the Indian-American community in Virginia, many of whom are Sikh, have expressed concerns about issues of religious tolerance and liberty in India. I hope that Prime Minister Modi continues efforts to better protect the inalienable rights afforded to all people, just as we fight against expressions of religious intolerance in our own political climate”.
In the ultimate analysis, however, Hillary Clinton would be a better choice as far as India is concerned, or for that matter, the world is concerned. From what anyone can make from Trump’s campaign he is unpredictable and unreliable. Hillary, on the other hand, is level headed and experienced and is likely to continue her country’s current policies.
Having remained so closely associated with the administration of the US and its relations with different countries, it understands the dynamics of the changing scenario. India is becoming increasingly important for the US in the region. New Delhi is well aware that to keep China, along with its ally Pakistan, in check, the US has to strengthen association with India. The Obama administration had made some significant strategic moves in the recent past, including an agreement on the use of Indian bases, and the new administration will have little choice but to build on the relationship.
Also, as was the case with her husband, former President Bill Clinton, she is unlikely to get her country directly involved in conflict situations. It would be better for all concerned if the US gives up its self-assumed responsibility of policing the world — and Hillary can be expected to prefer giving a healing touch rather than provoke animosity.