Decline in rule of law impeding Joe Biden’s vision for India-US relations

India is a key partner of the US, both globally and in the Indo-Pacific region. For this reason, President Joe Biden has visited India twice since taking office. It’s clear where America’s interests lie, but it’s also clear that the road to a stronger relationship is a circuitous and at times challenging one. Only by addressing the bumps in the road can the ride ever become smoother. Otherwise, it will not become the reliable alliance that Biden rightly aspires to.

Which irritants are in the foreground? Topping the list are internationally recognized questions about India’s decision to increase purchases of Russian oil, its recent human rights record – particularly vis-à-vis minority groups – and its poor investment climate, which US citizens and firms have consistently neglected.

For context, it is worth contrasting the relationship between the US and the other Quad partners, Australia and Japan. These relationships are rooted in the rule of law and built on a shared commitment to build enduring pillars of freedom. Because of this, the US connection with these nations is long-lasting and effective; the relationship with India is never described in this way as long as the rule of law is in question.

As the US draws closer to India in terms of regional security through the Quad and economically through the newly signed Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), this noticeable decline in the rule of law and India’s commitment to protecting human liberties becomes increasingly problematic.

Even as the US and most of the world strongly condemn Russia’s actions in Ukraine and issue harsh reprimands in the form of sanctions and embargoes on Russian exports, India refuses to break with the Kremlin. New Delhi has increased purchases of Russian oil to more than a million barrels a day, supporting ongoing violations of human rights and attacks on democracy in Eastern Europe.

Domestically, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s deteriorating human rights record, particularly with regard to the persecution of religious minorities and political opponents, is reaching a critical juncture. Recently, after pro-democracy protesters filled the streets of India urging the Modi regime to do more to stop the persecution of Muslim minorities, the government took well-known measures and began retaliating, attacking protesters and even destroying the homes of organizers and their families family members.

Government-sanctioned persecution of religious minorities is an all-too-familiar tactic in India. Foreign Minister Antony Blinken spoke with genuine concern at the growing instances of religious repression, stating: “In India, the world’s largest democracy and home to a wide diversity of faiths, we have seen increasing attacks on people and places of worship.”

Political opponents and businessmen are often subjected to similar abuses.

The Modi government uses non-judicial, politically appointed bodies like the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) to attack American companies, leading to the infamous case of Devas and the finalization of a deal between India-based Future Retail and Amazon. These bodies operate below normal standards of due process, picking up fabricated allegations against companies in the US and elsewhere, unlawfully nullifying contracts or liquidating companies outright. Simply put, India is a hostile environment for Americans to do business.

The Modi government’s arming of India’s judiciary and law enforcement agencies has long been another repressive tactic used to assert its power and punish those who refuse to bow to the government. Its government-controlled law enforcement and intelligence agencies have personally targeted business owners and employees of companies like Devas, even going so far as to call for the arrest and extradition of its co-founder, Indian-American businessman Ramachandran Viswanathan. The procedure for this request — the issuance of an Interpol Red Notice — is a form of intimidation practiced by others, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, to expand government bullying beyond national borders.

The Biden administration should set a minimum standard for India to enjoy the kind of relationships it wants, especially on the economic front. Otherwise it just doesn’t work – not for investors, not for companies and not for our democratic values.

If we have learned nothing else from trade policy over the past 10 years, it is that looking the other way to achieve a foreign policy objective simply does not work when nations abuse trade relations. Ultimately, the best way to keep trading relationships open is to insist on their fairness. The US must oblige India to show a genuine commitment to the rule of law and treating foreign companies fairly as a condition of any deal that deepens our relationship with India.

Without this commitment, the deeper economic and diplomatic ties on the drawing board are better penciled before they are turned into permanent ink. We strengthen US interests and values ​​by insisting on mutual action. Here’s how to build the relationship with India that both countries deserve.

Daniel Sepulveda is SVP at Platinum Advisors and was Ambassador and Assistant Secretary of State in the Office of Economics from 2013 to 2017 Decline in rule of law impeding Joe Biden’s vision for India-US relations

Fry Electronics Team

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