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Foreign policy India Kamala Harris: A vice president who understands India
With Kamala Harris, the USA has a high-ranking representative with Indian roots. In the homeland of their ancestors, this creates enthusiasm. The close personal ties to the subcontinent could also have an impact on politics.
The 500-inhabitant village of Thulasendrapuram in southern India usually has little to do with world politics. With the change of power in the White House, the community in the state of Tamil Nadu can, at least for a short time, look forward to global attention: It is considered the place in India that stands like no other for the South Asian roots of the new US Vice President Kamala Harris - and the rise the politician in Washington now accompanied from 14,000 kilometers away.
During the US election campaign, residents in the homeland of Harris' ancestors had already called for prayer for the Democrat - and then celebrated the election victory at the side of the new President Joe Biden with firecrackers and a small procession in which they portraits of the 56th Year olds stretched out in the direction of the arriving camera teams. In front of houses there were painted congratulations: "Kamala Harris, the pride of our village".
New tone in US-India relations
Harris is the daughter of a Jamaican economics professor and cancer researcher Shyamala Gopalan, who was born in India and whose family comes from Thulasendrapuram. The lessons she learned from her Indian family are a big part of why she made it to where she is today, Harris said in August.
The biographical connection of America's first female vice president with the subcontinent should also be noticeable in future American-Indian relations: Harris knows India through numerous trips and the family contacts that she maintains with uncles and aunts, almost no presidential representative before her . India's political leadership can also trust that it will now meet someone in the White House who speaks its language.
The new tone of voice was already evident in the congratulatory letter from India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Harris, in which he casually incorporated a Tamil term: "Your groundbreaking success not only fills your Chittis with pride, but all Americans of Indian descent," Modi wrote on Twitter - and used a slang term for aunts that Harris has already used.
In the American-Indian relationship, however, the change in government in Washington will not only change the choice of words: The political priorities will probably also shift a little - which Modi may not be just delighted with. While Donald Trump held mass rallies at the side of the Indian head of government, whom he described as a great leader and loyal friend, much more critical voices can be expected from the Biden government: The increasingly illiberal social policy of the Modi government, which aims to strengthen the Hindu Aiming at nationalism is likely to face greater resistance in Washington in the future than in Trump's tenure. For example, he failed to mention the controversy over a new Indian citizenship law, which was criticized as discriminating against Muslims, on a trip to India - and instead praised Modi for his allegedly "strong commitment to religious freedoms".
Modi's controversial policy in the Kashmir region, from which the government in New Delhi revoked its autonomy a year and a half ago, also met with criticism from the US Democrats. Harris made it clear at the time: "We are reminding the people of Kashmir that they are not alone. We are keeping an eye on the situation," she said, adding: "If it is necessary, action must be taken."
India remains a key partner for the USA
But while critical tones on human rights issues may become louder, it is unlikely that anything fundamental will change in the recent rapprochement between India and the US. The two countries have intensified their strategic cooperation in recent years in order to counterbalance China's growing claim to power in the region. The US moved India to the center of its Indo-Pacific strategy and expanded military cooperation with the government in New Delhi. India too, despite its traditional foreign policy doctrine of non-commitment, increasingly turned to the Americans - among other things as part of the so-called quadrilateral security dialogue, also known as the Quad, in which Australia and Japan are also participating alongside the USA.
In the Biden government, the experienced diplomat Kurt Campbell is to be responsible for the Americans' Indo-Pacific strategy. His appointment was seen as a clear signal that the United States, even under Joe Biden, will probably stick to its focus on India. Campbell was already responsible for US policy on Asia under Barack Obama. Even then he was convinced that a deeper partnership with India is in the interests of the USA. In an article in the magazine "Foreign Policy", he recently spoke out in favor of the British idea of founding a group of ten like-minded democracies under the name D-10 - in addition to the G-7 countries, Australia, South Korea and India should also be involved be represented.
With Kamala Harris as Vice President in the White House, the US government now also has a high-ranking representative who not only shares strategic interests with India, but also knows the country's culture very well. At public appearances, she last spoke in detail about the experiences she and her sister had gained during their trips to India with their mother, who died in 2009: "She wanted us to understand where she comes from and where her ancestors live," said Harris - and added, with a view to a South Indian kitchen classic: "And of course she also wanted to teach us the love of good Idli."
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