As the race for the Democratic party’s presidential nominee reaches its final stretch in the US, New Delhi would be watching closely. As much rides on a close US-India relationship this century, interest levels are high. The contest seems to have narrowed, with Joe Biden, who was vice-president during Barack Obama’s presidency, having swept dramatically ahead of Bernie Sanders in the party’s primary polls for candidate selection. If Biden scored big on Super Tuesday the week earlier, a day on which a large chunk of Democrats voted, he appears to have consolidated his lead over Sanders with wins reported in the primaries of Michigan, Missouri and Mississippi this week. Apart from Biden having been Obama’s running mate back in 2008, what he has in his favour is a multiracial support base that seems keen to see President Donald Trump exit the White House. With promotion of diversity as his selling point, the Democrat may well be able to tackle Trump on a key issue that has riven the US: multiculturalism. If Sanders were to lose Florida to Biden, we may be set for a Biden versus Trump election this November.
Biden seems to be a leader in the Obama mould. Many Democratic supporters think that his left-of-centre policy plank places him in a better position to challenge Trump, a Republican, than other Democrat contenders, most of whom look far too leftist to appeal to swing voters—those who are committed to neither party, but often determine who becomes president. Sanders’ self-described “socialist" agenda, for example, includes heavy taxation on the wealthy, the forced allotment of corporate equity to employees, and state subsidized college education, all of which are deemed far too statist by many. Biden, in contrast, is seen as a classic tax-and-spend Democrat, but not one who would shake up American capitalism. Moderation would also make it relatively easy for him to get congressional approval for his policies, which cannot be said of Sanders. Indeed, many of Biden’s proposals look like fiscally realistic means to achieve similar ends. Given power, he would make community college tuition-free, for example, while upping education grants and capping student loan bills. The standard formula in US presidential politics is to play to the party’s base in the primaries, and then pivot to the centre once a nomination is secured. By being relatively centrist, Biden could already be said to be in the big fray—against Trump.
As for India, the government would naturally be wary of Sanders, who recently criticized Trump for not raising issues of social disharmony in India with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his presidential visit to India. That Biden is more likely to go up against Trump, thus, could be a matter of some relief for Indian diplomats. The Democratic frontrunner’s disposition towards India would presumably be a continuation of Obama’s, or some variation thereof. In 2015, as vice-president, he had spoken at a US-India Business Council summit of how the US aimed to become India’s “best friend". While Obama’s equation with India lacked the exuberance of Trump, it had much going for both countries in substantive terms, and a renewal of that tone could serve India well. It was under Obama that the US elevated India’s status to a strategic global partner. That view could be sustained. Trump remains popular and it is likely that he will retain office. But India can’t ignore the possibility of a power shift in Washington.