There are bound to be a few glum faces in India’s external affairs ministry over the news of seven American lawmakers approaching the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, for interceding with India on the farmers’ issue. The officials in the ministry will not mind Pompeo’s intervention in itself since he reports to a President whose friendliness towards India was highlighted yet again by the conferment of the prestigious Legion of Merit on Narendra Modi for his contribution to strengthening the strategic ties between the two countries and for his leadership aiding India’s rise as a global power. What the bureaucrats may be concerned about, however, is the name of the Indian-American Congresswoman, Pramilla Jaypal, among the seven lawmakers. A year ago, Jaypal’s stand on Kashmir was resented so much by the Indian external affairs minister, S Jaishankar, that he refused to attend a subsequent meeting with an American team which included her.
Senator Kamala Harris, who is now the vice-president-designate, found such conduct by a foreign dignitary unacceptable. But, considering that Jaypal currently heads the influential Congressional Progressive Caucus, making her one of the most powerful US lawmakers, Indian diplomats will not find it easy to avoid her. It will be obvious to policy makers in New Delhi that the warmth which marked Indo-American relations during Trump’s presidency is coming to an end. There is little likelihood of a replay of the kind of “Howdy, Modi” and “Namaste, Trump” shows in the US and India demonstrating the coziness of the ties between the world’s oldest and largest democracies. Although the relations are bound to remain on an even keen because of the threat of China, there will still be issues which will have the potential of occasionally introducing a sour note. Kashmir is one of them even if the situation there is now better than what it was in the immediate aftermath of the abrogation of Article 370. But the new sticking point is the farmers’ agitation.
If the agitation against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) begins again, as it is already threatening to do in Assam, then the government will have to worry about its impact abroad. As is known, the earlier agitations on this issue, notably by Muslims in the New Delhi locality of Shaheen Bagh, had attracted considerable attention in Europe and America, so much so that one of the elderly participants in the protests had featured in Time magazine’s list of the year’s most prominent personalities. As the US lawmakers’ letter to Pompeo shows, the farmers’ agitation is beginning to be seen abroad as yet another example of the Modi government’s authoritarian tendencies which have made the Sweden-based V-Dem Institute note a “steep decline” in India’s democratic status. On the other hand, Kamala Harris said, “We have to remind Kashmiris that they are not alone in the world. We are keeping track of the situation. There is a need to intervene if the situation demands”. As the latest initiative of the American lawmakers shows, this “need” has arisen in their view with regard to the farmers. Clearly, Indo-American relations are on the brink of a new development.