A di­vided US Congress is good news for In­dia

Hindustan Times (Lucknow) - - Comment - ANIRUDH BHATTACHARYYA Anirudh Bhattacharyya is a Toronto­based com­men­ta­tor on Amer­i­can af­fairs The views ex­pressed are per­sonal

As fire­works were go­ing off in In­dia on Di­wali (within the two-hour Supreme Court-man­dated win­dow in some parts, or not), Amer­ica was wit­ness­ing py­rotech­nics it has been ac­cus­tomed to in re­cent times – ver­bal bombs lobbed by its 45th Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, at a press con­fer­ence that was less ami­able than a bar brawl.

This was hours af­ter Trump’s Repub­li­can Party ceded con­trol of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives to the op­po­si­tion Democrats, thereby hav­ing the US Congress re­flect the deep divi­sion within the coun­try. While an ex­pected Blue Wave never quite washed over Amer­ica, the tide ap­pears to have turned.

In the months ahead, Trump will have far more chal­lenges to face than in the pre­vi­ous two years. And that could ac­tu­ally be a pos­i­tive devel­op­ment for New Delhi. As re­cent his­tory sug­gests, em­bat­tled Amer­i­can Pres­i­dents, un­able to make progress do­mes­ti­cally, of­ten play for for­eign pol­icy wins. As non-con­tro­ver­sial as In­dia is for the Amer­i­can pub­lic, that’s an easy op­tion.

In 2010, days af­ter be­ing wal­loped in the Con­gres­sional race, los­ing the House and Se­nate, then Pres­i­dent Barack Obama sought suc­cour in In­dia, where he an­nounced US sup­port for a per­ma­nent seat for In­dia in the United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil. Over suc­ceed­ing years, in a waste­land of global dis­as­ters, (re­mem­ber the spread and sav­agery of the Is­lamic State?), In­dia of­fered him a rare diplo­matic oa­sis.

Four years ear­lier, af­ter Obama’s pre­de­ces­sor suf­fered sim­i­lar losses in the Congress, with Democrats se­cur­ing ma­jori­ties in the House and Se­nate, Ge­orge W Bush pushed for quick pas­sage of the In­dia-US civil­ian nu­clear agree­ment in the lat­ter, lame duck, cham­ber. He even used ex­ec­u­tive priv­i­lege on for­eign af­fairs to de­liver a sign­ing state­ment that dulled the edge of some pro­vi­sions in the Bill passed by the Se­nate. And, of course, in the af­ter­math of the Mon­ica Lewin­sky af­fair and an im­peach­ment in the US House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, Bill Clin­ton trav­elled to In­dia in March 2000, bring­ing warmth to the chill be­tween the two na­tions fol­low­ing the Pokhran II nu­clear tests. That he made the briefest of stops in Is­lam­abad marked by a hec­tor­ing ra­dio ad­dress, may only have fur­ther en­deared him at that time to the In­dian es­tab­lish­ment.

This track record ex­ists: That of the worst of times for Amer­i­can Pres­i­dents be­ing among the best for In­dia-US bi­lat­eral en­gage­ment. Trump’s Ad­min­is­tra­tion may al­ready be fo­cused on an Indo-Pa­cific agenda that at­tempts to cor­ner China and the post-elec­tion phase may well see the ef­forts at tar­get­ing Bei­jing ex­pand. Not least be­cause be­ing a man of such frag­ile ego, Trump is irate at China tak­ing out ad­ver­to­ri­als in heart­land pub­li­ca­tions ahead of the midterms to crit­i­cise his trade poli­cies.

Trump won’t be fly­ing into In­dia any time soon, hav­ing missed an op­por­tu­nity to be­ing the Guest of Hon­our at next year’s Repub­lic Day, but a weaker oc­cu­pant of the White House will likely pro­vide a stronger im­pe­tus to ties be­tween the two coun­tries.

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