The contrast between the inaugural of a new American president in 2021 and 2017 could not have been starker. Four years ago, Donald Trump, from the same pulpit, had laid bare the contours of what would become his presidency’s signature legacy. Hate, division, disruption and crony capitalism. Rancour and bitterness were the tools he employed to arouse his support base against anyone who opposed his brand of populism.
On Wednesday, from the same Capitol Hill where a fortnight earlier Trump had despatched his stormtroopers to ransack the two legislative chambers, Joe Biden delivered a message of hope and unity. He would be the president of both those who supported him and those who did not. Always statesman-like, he struck not a single discordant note in his short but purposeful address.
Unlike his predecessor, the 46th US President undertook to heal wounds, restore calm and order, and to address the pressing grievances of the people. To begin with, try and neutralise the coronavirus pandemic, which had killed more than four lakh Americans under the watch of his predecessor who had first refused to consider it more than a common flu, mocking the scientists who called for a strict cautionary regimen, and later throwing all caution to the wind, addressing election rallies without anyone wearing masks or maintaining social distance. In a way, Trump himself turned the main spreader-in-chief of the virus.
Biden, on the other hand, led by example, wearing a mask even at an event which marked the pinnacle of his more than half-a-century of political career. So did former presidents, ranking Senators and Representatives from both the parties and the tens of thousands of security forces who secured the inaugural ceremony against feared threats from Trump blackguards. A million Americans will be vaccinated daily, to fight the Covid-19 scourge in the next 100 days, which is still raging strong in parts of the country. A huge financial relief package is on the anvil, to alleviate the economic hardships of people caused by the pandemic.
If Biden applied the healing touch at home, he signalled an immediate return to comity and cooperation abroad. As expected, the US was all set to join the WHO and the Paris Climate Agreement. Even on the Iran nuclear deal, a re-look is assured. If the sanctions-hit Iran plays its cards well, the Biden administration might heed the wishes of its western allies such as Germany, France, the UK etc., and re-work the nuclear deal and lift the sanctions. There is a genuine resistance from within the American security establishment against taking Iran on its word, besides the inherent opposition of the Sunni Saudi Arabia and its allies of the Iranian regional power ambitions.
As for Indo-US relations, there is unlikely to be much change, though the Biden administration could be noisier on perceived violations of human rights in parts of the country due to the terror-related local environments in Kashmir and in parts of the north-east. India would hope to get relief on immigration, H-IB visas for skilled workers. As the one-time chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Biden’s record gives reason for India to expect him to be harder on Pakistan for its export of terror than even the previous administration.
Of course, the enhanced cooperation between the two countries on strategic and security matters would continue unhindered, for Biden too perceives China as a threat to regional and world peace. Meanwhile, despite drawing nationalistic pride in having an Indian- and African-origin Vice-President in Kamala Harris, the first woman ever to be elected to that post, or in Biden appointing a record number of India-born Americans in his administration, it would be futile to hope for a tangible pro-India tilt. All of them have earned their spurs as Americans first, regardless of the country of their origin.
But what we can, and should, celebrate is the return of civility, dignity, purpose and order returning to the White House which in myriad ways, noticed and unnoticed, impacts the wider global order. Sanity and predictability were never Trump’s strong suits. He lived up to his notoriety even in the last few hours of his administration, threatening to return in 2024 before sulking off to Florida, boycotting the handover of power to Biden, something no president had done in more than a 100 years. Clearly, four years holding the most powerful office in the world taught him nothing. He remained the New York real estate hustler that he essentially was --- and is committed to remain for the rest of his life, the world should be warned.