PM Narendra Modi and US President Joe Biden | Wikipedia
File photo of PM Narendra Modi and US President Joe Biden | Wikipedia
Text Size:

The Indian anger towards the Joe Biden administration’s seeming inaction last week as India battles a devastating second wave of the Covid pandemic was justified. It is possible that the US government was caught by surprise at the speed with which this wave crashed over India. Government bureaucracies rarely move at the speed of Twitter, especially since the Biden administration is yet to be fully staffed. It is also possible that there were bureaucratic and legal bottlenecks that the US government faced, as some accounts have suggested. And it goes without saying that it was not the lack of US support or vaccine supply that caused the current crisis in India.

None of this should excuse the Biden administration’s delay in at least publicly expressing support for a partner country that is dealing with an unimaginable catastrophe, even if it now has rectified that mistake with statements and tweets of support, including from President Biden. The US may not have been able to do much in practice to help with the current situation but that is beside the point. Powerlessness to help others in the face of this particular pandemic is familiar to people around the world but that has not prevented even strangers from expressing emotional support.

But equally, there is little doubt that this is not indicative of the value of the US-India strategic partnership. It is difficult not to suspect that for many traditional opponents of this partnership, from both the Right and Left of the Indian political spectrum, this became an excuse to undermine the partnership. The Indian Right is suspicious of the Biden administration for ideological reasons, parsing everything it does for indication of any anti-Narendra Modi bias. When evidence is hard to come by, they resort to speculation, such as Democrats retaliating for Modi’s embrace of Donald Trump.

For sections of the Indian Left and the left-over old establishment, it’s a Putinesque nostalgia for the Cold War, which the passage of time has dimmed but not entirely extinguished. For both, the driving force is ideology. Neither will accept the simple Realist proposition that in international politics, ideology plays less of a role than calculations about relative power and insecurity, which is why the US and India have deepened their partnership irrespective of whether it was Barack Obama or Donald Trump or Joe Biden in the White House, or Manmohan Singh or Modi leading India. Because neither the Left nor Right can get beyond ideology and nostalgia, they are bound to keep being disappointed.


Also read: US assures export of raw materials to India for Covid vaccines as Doval speaks to Sullivan


Strategy over morality

There are good arguments that can be made about why the US was wrong in delaying help to India with its Covid vaccination production. These have been rare. Here’s a simple one: An India weakened in any way, including by this pandemic, is not in the US’ interest. Indeed, the basis for America’s India policy – like the basis for a lot of US policy towards allies and partners, in general – is the sensible recognition that stronger partners help America’s cause. If the US helped rebuild Europe and Japan after World War 2, it was in significant part a recognition that weak allies are a burden and even possibly a threat.

Instead, much of the criticism has been about what this says about US claims of moral leadership and the hypocrisy in them. So, America’s moral claims are hypocritical. Is this news? Hypocrisy, the difference between how we claim to behave and how we actually do, is widespread in international politics. India is hardly innocent. More importantly, is Indian faith in American morals the basis of the US-India partnership? If so, it would suggest that the US has suddenly become a more moral international actor in the last decade, a ridiculous suggestion.

The simple truth is that neither the US nor India are particularly moral or ethical actors in international politics, though both may be, at least comparatively, better than most others. What correlates with the closer relationship is not morality but something relatively straightforward: Necessity. This is a partnership that has a very specific purpose – balancing against China. This is not a favour India is doing the US, nor the other way around. It was America’s material power that was attractive to New Delhi, not its moral power. If we are not partnering with Sweden or New Zealand – two of the many countries that could make some credible claims of being more ‘moral’ in their international conduct rather than the US or India – it is because their moral power is of little help to India in dealing with China. India’s growing partnership with the US was the result of New Delhi recognising – even now, reluctantly – that it needed the American power to balance China. If France, or Russia – or New Zealand – sufficed, India’s choice would have been different. But they do not have the wealth and power that is necessary to counter China. India needs US partnership because only the US is strong enough for India’s purpose.


Also read: Nations offer India help to tackle Covid, but are opposing Delhi’s proposal on vaccines at WTO


India has two choices

For both India and the US, in different ways, China represents a threat. For the US, it is a threat to its global position primarily rather than a direct threat to its security, at least so far. For India, China represents both a threat to its territory directly and, equally importantly, a political threat because it could, left unchecked, become the regional hegemon in Asia. That would represent a distinctly uncomfortable condition for India to live under. What opponents of a partnership with the US ignore is that Chinese hegemony over Asia represents a far greater threat to New Delhi’s ‘strategic autonomy’ than a partnership with the US.

The other popular meme over the last few days is that India ‘will not forget’. Will India remember this? Of course. Will it matter? Not in the slightest. International politics is too unforgiving an environment for wallowing in historical grievances at the cost of national security today. Think of the growing closeness recently between Russia and China, who spent decades fighting and trying to undermine each other, or even between the US and Vietnam. India’s deepening partnership with the US over the last few years is not the result of New Delhi forgetting the 1971 USS Enterprise episode or because India has recently become convinced of America’s righteousness.

The harsh but simple truth is that India deepened the US partnership not out of choice but because it did not have any other choice – except, may be, kowtowing to China. That’s a choice that India still has and can exercise whenever it wants if it is unhappy with the US partnership. But I doubt there are many takers in India for that.

The author is a professor in International Politics at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi. Views are personal.

(Edited by Neera Majumdar)

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it

India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.

But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.

ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.

Support Our Journalism

VIEW COMMENTS

29 COMMENTS

  1. Yes, the relationship between two countries is never based on morality., but on necessity of eachother. And this is more relevant to india than any other country. Although we preach morality, but seldom practise. Even during the Nehru’s days, we never criticised the Chinese aggressive behaviour during the Korean war, Russian invasion of Poland or the Arab’s attacks on Israel. And our leftists, who are critising US now, should look into their past records on America.
    The US lost its Morality when it armed Iran it’s biggest enemy against Iraq. And even now it is playing both sides by fighting Talibaans and arming Pakistan, their biggest supporter.

  2. I think it’s only because the patriotic Indian community pressuring USA. Still, the USA has to become Pro Russia and Pro Oil Industry to manage crude oil prices in order to win complete trust of India and also allow easy access to high end defence technology as well as lastly speak on occasions about Hindus like Trump did in order to ensure that India does not miss Trump. So step on the gas And ensure that this helping hand tempo sustains. Also, Indians are a vital vote bank in swing states of Arizona Virginia Georgia North Carolina Nevada Minnesota Wisconsin Michigan Pennsylvania Florida. They will only unite further and further and after a proper TV debate only in indian television channels, the mood would be observed and whoever is more pro india would be voted for. No more selfish priorities of green card and immigration and jobs. Nation comes first.

  3. I think it’s only because the patriotic Indian community pressuring USA. Still, the USA has to become Pro Russia and Pro Oil Industry to manage crude oil prices in order to win complete trust of India and also allow easy access to high end defence technology as well as lastly speak on occasions about Hindus like Trump did in order to ensure that India does not miss Trump. So step on the gas And ensure that this helping hand tempo sustains. Also, Indians are a vital vote bank in swing states of Arizona Virginia Georgia North Carolina Nevada Minnesota Wisconsin Michigan Pennsylvania Florida. They will only unite further and further and after a proper TV debate only in indian television channels, the mood would be observed and whoever is more pro india would be voted for. No more selfish priorities of green card and immigration and jobs. Nation comes first.

  4. Not in the slightest ? Maybe for your blind foreign ass licking self. For everyone else, who lost their loved ones, it does matter. The print will burn and a stronger India will rise from its ashes.
    Your author may still like to ass lick the foreign powers but we’re out there to make our own identity. We’re making mistakes, yes. But we will get there. NaMo NaMo.
    Death to the print & such spineless media houses.

  5. Modi and Trump are hardly friends or enemies: NM received DT as the CEO of the richest, most powerful country Nothing else, nothing personal, neither enmity nor friendship!

    The main, if not the only, reason India does not do as well as it could is the huge overpopulation: one billion excess. So why blame whichever govt.? Anyone who limits kids to whatever s/he can raise is doing OK, especially if they do it over 2 or more generations! It is not some govt’s job to look after your kids, (with others’ taxes), because you are too poor, handicapped, unemployable, etc. and yet proceed to breed!

    India does not need aid but the raw material for the serum, which the US has and does not need. There is ample O2 here but not enough tanks, etc. which cost around 50 lakhs each. Which company is going to buy extra tanks, just because may be an unforeseen viral attack?

    In a democracy, residents are responsible for whatever happens here. How about ensuring your street /shop front is clean?

    Media needs to thoroughly investigate how this virus entered India, was it spread deliberately and how this new strain started here. Usually it is possible if reporters want to work as opposed to scrawling their own limited experience!

    Also media needs to investigate who started the careless, casual rumour last year that the Lockdown would be THREE or FOUR months which made migrants flee.

    Media worldwide i.e. articles by Ayyub or the Pakistani who covers India for NYT, bleated the Lockdown, masks, etc are useless, harsh, and cruel, the govt did nothing rigth and it was India’s youth, immunity, spices, etc. that protected Indians.

  6. India’s kow towing to the US is like India’s kow towing to Modi. The lack of a better alternative. India continues its trajectory towards its Nadir with growing momentum.

  7. Had modi arranged howdi modi and said on American soil ab ki bar Biden sarkar and realy Trump one instead of Biden just imagine Forget delay never would have helped as a big nationalist than modi. For him America first .such persons walk the talk unlike liberandu Biden says something before and acts different.

  8. Narendra Modi and Amit Shah should be given worlds most irresponsible politician on this planet earth for knowingly conducting rallies in West Bengal during the pandemic.
    Before we blame anybody or any country, we should be looking at them.
    1: They failed to provide affordable house to poor and have no idea that on any given day how many people in india sleep on pavements/ footpaths.
    2: After hearing about the cost to vaccinate 18- 45 year olds will have additional cost of 45 thousand crore approx….. and before this news was announced….. how much money has Indian govt so far has spend on covid pandemic?
    3: I am sure it’s pretty much close to something that Indian govt could have transferred 15 lakh rupees to 15-20 crore Indian families (Assuming a family of 4 members).
    If that would have been done, they would have stayed wherever they are and should have further been called to vaccinate.
    4: By no means I am telling you we could have escaped from this pandemic….. but we could have controlled the death rates at the full potential.
    5: Modi govt never transfers even a single rupee to people’s account…. I don’t know what mentality he has. All the time providing free rice and wheat flour and all is never going to work out.
    6: One great thing that happened at present is all this while it’s the people abs citizens of india who have been working so hard but this time around USA and China made the netas and Indian govt work harder then ever before just to test how capable and efficient they are.
    7: This would be the first time that people are at home and netas are working otherwise it’s been vice versa throughout our history.
    8: Does anyone in india knows what chief ministers of other states are doing? Are they even working or not? Haven’t heard anything from any of them…. Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana?….
    9: Before modi leaves…. the least he should do is to continue developing India’s infrastructure at the highest speed.
    10: But he cares less about people and more about power. Shameless fellow ha and his aides Amit shah.

  9. I generally read this writer’s columns with respect and attention. I think, it is beneath him to write a sentence like this –
    “…..except, may be, kowtowing to China. That’s a choice that India still has and can exercise whenever it wants.” This is an affront to people like me who want India to succeed and be a respected country in the comity of countries.

    • I am sure you misunderstood. But everyone is not expected to understand this well written article.

  10. When India and China attained independence almost at the same time why there is so much vast difference?
    Because Indians continue to choose wrong leaders and wrong icon who acted as British agent, who were cowards who suppressed real freedom fighters ,used cleverly Hindu caste system to achieve these goals .Everyone can see the results. One is superpower another I.e India has to ally 3 others to fight China. 4 against 1.What a shame. History has shown repeatedly that it is the brave and mighty which will rule the world. It has thrown cowards to the dustbin and never looked back.Nehru and his cunning guru Gandhi are responsible for this state of affairs.
    Don’t waste people’s time by asking for comments which can’t be posted. This is an idiotic site.

    • Bhakts never learn…they can blame Nehru for everything when India is facing crisis after crisis under their so called efficient government. Why is the situation of healthcare so grim even after their efficient favourite leader came to power in 2014. How many hospitals did they make since 2014, how has the gdp improved, even after 10months into the covid crisis they couldn’t establish sufficient oxygen plants in the country. People are dying but here bhakts are defending their god and blaming previous government. A lot had been done by previous governments considering the state of nation they inherited from Britishers. Where is the bharatiye vaigyanik vaccine, maitri, make in India??when the reality is people are dying without basic supplies like oxygen. Why no preparation even after on year into pandemic and the pm has now awaken from his sleep to finally buy oxygen concentration, which should have been bought earlier. They couldn’t shortlist 3 efficient vendors for oxygen plant setup in last one year. The covid wave gave us enough time to prepare. What good will blaming Biden or other countries do when our own government was busy selling critical supplies to outside world.

    • Gober headed bhakths has to be hanged for spreading all lies . Nehru from vacuum built modern India and built it on a scientific basis.
      These morons feku and thadipar destroyed the fabric of India by shifting indian fabric to cow based and mandir based. These fools science revolve around cowdung and cowmuthr.

  11. When India and China attained independence almost at the same time why there is so much vast difference?
    Because Indians continue to choose wrong leaders and wrong icon who acted as British agent, who were cowards who suppressed real freedom fighters ,used cleverly Hindu caste system to achieve these goals .Everyone can see the results. One is superpower another I.e India has to ally 3 others to fight China. 4 against 1.What a shame. History has shown repeatedly that it is the brave and mighty which will rule the world. It has thrown cowards to the dustbin and never looked back.Nehru and his cunning guru Gandhi are responsible for this state of affairs.

  12. These pseudo and inclined media have done the most damage and still keep doing recklessly same thing..people of India and the present dispensation are aware of this. INDIA WILL WIN…

  13. A well analysed article about the need for cosying (if there is such a word in English)up to America. But the idea of kowtowing to China in the end of the article? Unthinkable and unacceptable..may be possible if Maoists take over India. Days of Hindi China Bhai Bhai are history.

  14. A twist in journalism. USA is helpless. But indian govt. Is with inaction. In a country inefficiency and corruption are tolerated , we want action immediately. We have inadequate health support. That means we are ready for these deaths. Why cry now ?

  15. If the author thinks that the biden admin was inexperienced or short staffed he’s either speculating or knowingly trying to whitewash and justify bidens actions.. The leftist democrat party of biden literally loathes the present right-wing ruling party of India the bjp. The camadrie that Trump and modi had for each other is something that would want biden to nuke India if he had the power to do it without having a answer to anyone..
    Let’s not forget the VP Harris who’s half Indian n half Jamaican.. She proudly calls herself an Indian in front of an Indian crowd and tells blacks she’s black to the core ..such pandering was topped only by Hillary ..thank God she never became president.
    Biden has financial interests in China..
    He’s corrupt to the core . he’s son hunter is involved in financial irregularities in Ukraine.
    The rotting biden had kneel just because international pressure was building up and don’t think that the Indian diaspora is insignificant in dredging up support..
    We as Indians may not so easily forget ..
    What we can do is to remind the Indian Americans who traditionally vote Democrat (when the next elections are up in 2024) plz vote Republican and avenge our country’s honour..

    • Bloody moron your spine is full of gobber. Where were you when your megalomaniacs ,simpleton murderer feku was declaring ” abki bar donald trumpoo, the moron” and spent 100s of crores of poor people to tell namaste trump to a devil like trumpoo.
      Your moron pappa has destroyed every democratic institution of this great nation even the soopreme court.

      When 50lakh fools took bath in the midst of fierce second wave of corona in ganga where were you .
      When some thousand assembled in Tablegge the whole nation and all media went after innocent Muslims!
      NO media was reporting the effect of catastrophic assembly of the foolish hidu devotees without even masks on the corona spread!
      How do you expect the world to be responsible for the most foolish behavior of the gobber heads which are leading this country into catastrophes?

  16. Surely I believe this delay is because of “Ab ki baar trump sarkar” by modi which has strategically went wrong.

  17. New Zealand is not a country of any relevance as such, and has earlier this week completely capitulated to China, and broke out of its Five Eyes alliance. Everyone who follows geopolitics knows where NZ is going. So let’s stop trying to make New Zealand happen, it’s just not a player on its own merit in global politics, except this ‘beauty pageant’ style image management being done by pro-China hacks since Jacinda, an usual suspect, took over. And similarly, India has very little to do with Sweden beyond some token clean energy stuff. These countries are self-proclaimed ‘moral’ leaders, tiny little places that for no reason except such unnecessary news coverage and random country ratings done by dubious agencies, stay in the news. US, Russia, China, France, even India despite being third world but due to sheer population size and being the world’s largest electoral democracy, play at a different level. The US lost this round, behaving as is expected of the total lack of statecraft of the current set of ridiculous Dems. Let’s not say moronic things like “Biden was too busy with the climate talks and does not have enough staff to check what his minions meant when they said no we will not help India because not only our citizens, but EVERYONE in the world thinks we are so special that we will save ourselves only.” That is Pogo-level myopic and Biden was rightly ridiculed for it, and had the momentary presence of mind to take the U-turn instead of driving straight off the cliff. Our “journalists” need to get out of this incredible inferior complex to anything Western.

  18. First of all, let us not make a big issue of US helping India on Covid. We could have as well obtained various supplies from other countries. And indeed, so many countries have come forward to help us out. But we needed some critical chemicals for Covishield vaccine and that has now been sorted out. Sudden onset of second wave with this ferocious intensity has taken us all by surprise and we need to save lives in this critical hours. Vaccine can wait in that sense though it is now accepted that vaccination reduces fatalities greatly and hence, it is helpful in fight against Covid.

    Secondly, international relations between the countries are indeed always transactional based on temporally shared interests but we always give it a packaging of strategic, ideological, brotherly etc. etc. With China as a common threat, India and USA are now close to each other for defense related matters but we have major difference on other issues. Similarly, we need Russia, France, Israel as well for defense equipment. If Chinese behave themselves, India will cool off in no time to USA!

    Of course, the domestic politics of showing Modi will go on but it so happens every time that these sickulars have to face ignominy over a period of time! Look at the way Biden spoke and USA responded. Or countries from France to Bhutan including Pakistan!

    We need to grow up and not behave like kids! We should not complain every time our so called friend USA or Russia does not act exactly as we want her to act!

  19. Each emergency situation arising out of pandemic has a lesson for India. We have wasted last 70 years on slow pace of developement . Too much politics, no will to enforce law of the land, disease of obtaining Stay orders from courts to block infrastructure projects by vested interests. Over reliance on imports, outsourcing all industrial production and killing our own industry. It should be taken as eye opener, to stand upto China India must improve its economy, industry and research in defence capabilities and technology.

    • You’ve articulated all the reasons why Pappu and his Pvt Ltd company should never again be voted into power.

      • Your replies show that there is no bigger pappu than you ,in this world ,congratulations.

    • If past seventy years were of slow growth, the last seven years were a period of crashing growth. India will never be taken seriously as long as we have political leadership that lives only for election campaigns.

      • India is taken seriously now then before. You realize that only if you have been watching Western media like CNN, BBC, France 24 etc. for a long time. Previously India was rarely mentioned.

        Get of of your seu ivory tower. It was secularism promoted by Nehru that was opium for India, which was keeping it down.

  20. “The Indian anger towards the Joe Biden administration’s seeming inaction last week as India battles a devastating second wave of the Covid pandemic was justified.”
    Do not know which Indians we are talking about. Barring a few people who are entrusted with resolving such issues, the rest do not understand the complexities.
    To claim “Indian anger towards the Joe Biden administration” is just headline grabbing and seeding discontent.

Comments are closed.