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India needs the US more than you think, Mr Biden

The Indian PM with Joe and Jill Biden this week. Bill O’Leary/Getty

Joe Biden is taking “operation seduce Narendra Modi” to new levels, says Edward Luce in the FT. During his visit to Washington this week, the Indian prime minister was not only treated to the “glitziest” state dinner of Biden’s presidency – he also became one of a select few statesmen who have addressed a joint session of Congress more than once, following in the footsteps of Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela. Biden’s commerce secretary, Gina Raimondo, has gushed that Modi’s devotion to the Indian people is “just indescribable and deep and passionate and real and authentic”. At this rate, “India’s leader might get the impression that America quite admires him”.

In reality, of course, the “thickness of America’s red carpet” has nothing to do with Modi himself, and “everything to do with India’s geography” – it’s the only other country has the heft to counterbalance China. But Americans find it hard to do “foreign policy realism” convincingly. US officials can’t resist the urge to declare that India and America “share common values”, despite Modi’s overt Hindu nationalism, backsliding on liberal norms and buying all that Russian oil. It’s totally unnecessary. Nobody is more alive to the “multipolar world of frenemies” than India itself. What’s more, so baldly undermining Biden’s claim that human rights are “at the heart” of his foreign policy can only deepen cynicism about the gap between what America says and does. In an era when the “global south” is up for grabs, “such double standards do little for US credibility”.

🇮🇳🇨🇳 Another flaw with Biden’s charm offensive is that it “misreads how much India needs America”. India is “incomparably more vulnerable” to the threat of Chinese military aggression than the US. It shares a 2,100-mile border with China – much of it disputed and frequently fought over – and its military is a shambles that would need to be bailed out by the US if large-scale conflict did ever erupt. Biden has convinced himself he needs Modi. It’s the other way around.