Sadanand Dhume and Tanvi Madan join Milan to talk about Biden, Bihar, and U.S.-India bonhomie.
Last week, the world saw two highly anticipated elections come to an end. The never-ending 2020 U.S. presidential election finally came to a close—with Democratic challenger and former Vice President Joe Biden capturing the White House.
On the other side of the world, tens of millions of voters went to the polls in the north Indian state of Bihar. The election produced a narrow victory for the ruling National Democratic Alliance—a coalition principally made of the Bharatiya Janata Party and its regional ally, the Janata Dal (United)
Joining Milan to talk all things elections are Grand Tamasha news-round up regulars Sadanand Dhume of the American Enterprise Institute and theWall Street Journal and Tanvi Madan of the Brookings Institution.
The trio discuss the key lessons of the U.S. 2020 election, the implications for India, and what the election tells us about the configuration of power in the United States come January 2021. Milan, Sadanand, and Tanvi also discuss the Bihar elections, what they say about Modi’s popularity, and the trials and tribulations of the political opposition.
Welcome to Grand Tamasha, a co-production of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Hindustan Times. I'm your host, Milan Vaishnav. This past week, we saw two highly anticipated elections come to an end. The never-ending 2020 US presidential election finally came to a close, sort of - more on that in a second - with Democratic challenger and former Vice President Joe Biden capturing the White House. We're recording this program on Friday, November 13, and it's worth pointing out to our listeners that the incumbent President Donald Trump has not yet conceded the race. On the other side of the world, tens of millions of voters went to the polls in the north Indian state of Bihar. The election produced a narrow victory for the ruling National Democratic Alliance, a coalition principally made up of the BJP and its regional ally, the JD(U). The ruling alliance prevailed despite a pretty deep economic crisis, I think it's fair to say, and a spirited campaign by the opposition. Joining me to talk all things elections are Grand Tamasha news roundup regulars Sadanand Dhume of AEI and the Wall Street Journal - welcome back, Sadanand.
Good to be back.
Beard is looking more robust than ever - almost approaching Narendra Modi's standards.
This is the trimmed version!
... and, fortunately not bearded, Tanvi Madan of the Brookings Institution, who recently, I think, has taken up a new role as our collective conscience on Twitter. Tanvi, good to see you.
It's good to be back on the pod, Milan.
So, we will jump right into the special elections episode, beginning first with elections close to home here in America. Sadanand, let me start with you. Just at a 30,000-foot level, for any of our listeners who have not been paying close attention in the past week or ten days, give us a quick rundown of where things stand in terms of the US election. What do we know about how political power is going to be configured come January next year?
I was quite tempted to sort of start this with a Pompeo-esque joke. But, broadly speaking, what we do know - and I think we do really know this - is that Joe Biden will be the next president. He has won with about 78 million votes and 306 electoral votes, which is, coincidentally, the same number of electoral votes that Trump got four years ago. The Republicans have made modest gains in the House, but the House will remain with the Democrats, and the Republicans have defied many polls to most likely hold onto the Senate, though we will have to wait to see the result of two run-offs in Georgia that are coming up. So, the most likely configuration in January 2021 will be Democratic President Joe Biden, Democratic House - albeit with a slightly small majority - and a Republican Senate.
So, I know our Indian listeners in particular will be interested in hearing your views on what you think the key takeaways are from this election for the United States. Let's start there, before we get to the India bit. What are the two or three big things you think we've learned from the results insofar as they inform us about the state of domestic politics here in America?
So, I think my first big takeaway is pretty optimistic. Because it's almost as though some crazy political scientists somewhere decided to throw the US political system the biggest possible challenge, right - "So, you think you have this great liberal democracy? Well, let's see how you can cope with this maniacal TV showman serial liar who's always on Twitter. Can you cope? Can your institutions cope? Will the courts cope? Will the media cope? Will you be able to digest this?" And the verdict is in, and I think that many people have had fears, but the system has worked. We've had a free and fair election with a very high turnout, and we're about to see the back of Trump. So, I think that is broadly very positive. That's one big takeaway. The second is that the amount of polarization that we see is really quite remarkable. And this really does worry me: the fact that a large section of Republicans actually inhabits a completely different information universe from the rest of the country, that even though, from everything I've read, no one in the Republican leadership believes Trump's claims that there was rigging or that the election was actually won by him, they're clearly worried that a large enough section of his voters are prone to believe whatever he says. And I think that really shows that even though Trump may have lost, we're going to be grappling with the aftermath of Trumpism for a while to come.
Tanvi, let me let me ask you about the relevance of this election for India. Sadanand said that we're going to have a Democratic president come January 20, we will have a Democratic House, we will have a Senate which could go either way, but whoever is in control is going to have a pretty narrow majority. What do you think this portends for US-India relations going forward?
One thing about the outcome itself - and it's interesting, because Sadanand talked about the democratic stress test as having been over, and I think we've still got a few more weeks of the stress test ongoing - but I think the outcome should be a reminder for various folks in Delhi about why it's good to keep their relationships with both sides of the aisle, that you never quite know who's going to be in what configuration. And so I think - for all that some people said this was not the case - whether you saw the government, whether you saw the parties, whether you saw think tanks and who they were engaging, there's this tendency, especially when the presidency goes one way, for everybody to rush to that party, start engaging, and you forget that four years from now - this is something India should know and remember as a fellow democracy - that could change. So, I think the outcome, and especially the potentially divided nature of government, should be a reminder. What's the relevance of this? I think there are a number of things you could talk about broadly, but let me say a few things about this potentially Republican Senate with the Democratic House and Presidency, what the implications could be. I think, for one, it depends on the level of political gridlock that this results in. Even policy gridlock - can Joe Biden find a way to get certain things done? Chances are, he will probably use a lot of executive orders like Trump did, but it could have relevance on particular issues that India cares about - trade, immigration, the Iran deal, for example - where you could see now re-engaging Iran not being a possibility. It will also make a difference in terms of personnel appointments, who Joe Biden could get confirmed if there's a Republican Senate, or even, frankly, if there's a close, split, divided senate with Kamala Harris, having the tie-breaking vote. But India might not mind that, because it would mean, I think, fewer progressives being appointed in roles that India cares about at the cabinet level. But, nonetheless, that will make a difference. And then, I think, finally, one of the things that could make a difference - and again, this is something India might actually like - is that one of the few areas where you could see collaboration between a Democratic House and Presidency and a Republican Senate is China. There's actually a fair amount of convergence on a number of issues related to China - for tougher policy toward China - and you could see that that could be something that India would not necessarily mind. And, finally, you could see even Democrats trying to get certain domestic priorities through - whether that's research and development spending, education spending, infrastructure, saying, "We need to do this because of competition with China" - and so, again, not things that India would mind, but that would have an impact, I would say, on India's options.
So, I want to come back to the China point, but just bookmark that for a second. Sadanand, let me just ask you about the first part of what Tanvi said. There is a widespread perception that the Modi government kind of revealed its hand, as it were, and its proximity, its closeness, maybe even its desire to see Trump come back, and that's put them at a disadvantage. Do you think that's lasting? Or do you think it's the kind of thing where [the US will say,] “No, let bygones be bygones," and a few months from now, no one will even be talking about this?
I think the latter. I mean, there's been a kind of meltdown going on in Twitter - certainly amongst elements of the Hindu right - but, in the end, you are going to have adults running this administration, and they're not going to allow US policy toward any extremely important country in Asia to hinge on the diplomatic gaucheries of the Modi administration in the final years of the Trump administration. I'm not saying that those gaucheries were not noticed - of course they were noticed. They were unwise. They should be criticized. But I don't think we should make too much of them in terms of how they're going to impact policy. But I also sort of think that - I just had a piece in the Wall Street Journal where I talked about human rights and democracy and try to make a fairly simple point, which is merely that this is not going to be the most important issue in the bilateral relationship, but neither is it going to be entirely invisible as it has been over the last four years. And, to me, that's a fairly commonsensical, moderate point that virtually anyone who follows US-India relations closely would agree with. But I was somewhat surprised to see the level of complete hysterical meltdown about this on Twitter and this idea that people have that somehow the Democrats are going to try and come in and dictate to Modi or sanction India or have some kind of lurid fantasies. Whereas the reality is that US foreign policy is much more like a supertanker than like a motorboat - it'll continue on this path. All of us here know that. We've had, Democratic administrations and Republican administrations that have invested in strengthening this partnership. India is an important country - on both sides of the aisle, people feel this way - and so I think a lot of those fears are, to my mind, simply exaggerations.
Tanvi, want to come in on this one?
Sometimes I think this discussion goes into these concerns about Indian domestic developments that have been articulated by some Democrats - and, frankly, some Republicans as well who care deeply about religious freedom issues - that these will either kind of lead to some big break or sanctions or some kind of a big push, or the opposite, that it doesn't matter at all, because India's too useful. I think what's often missed, though, is the stuff in the middle, which is the opportunity cost of India having to go on defense over the last year, having to spend so much time explaining things, time that could have been spent on pushing other things forward. It also would make it harder, depending on what developments take place in India over the next few years - anything that causes concerns amongst key constituencies in Washington - it's not that the Biden administration might do something very different from the Obama administration, which kind of alluded to these concerns in public and took them up privately, but it will make it harder for Biden administration to get things done for India on the hill. For example, it makes it harder to make exceptions for India, exceptions that India sometimes expects, because Delhi goes around saying, "Why are we different because we are democracy?" And I think one hopes that there will be a certain amount of introspection in the US, as well, about the state of democracy and liberalism here. But I think these issues should be discussed in a rational manner. Even bringing up these issues leads to such vitriol, sometimes, online - you can't have a rational conversation about it, about why this matters to both countries.
Now, I want to move on ask you about China, but just to interject, you had a tweet, Tanvi, which was, I thought, quite apt. Just to paraphrase, you basically said that, at some point, you've sort of got to wonder that a lot of people in India are more worried about America raising questions about India's democratic freedoms than the health of those freedoms, which is also that's something that I kind of echoed in a piece I had for the Hindustan Times, and we'll link to that as well as Sadanand's Wall Street Journal piece, which is certainly worth reading. Tanvi, just to come back to China because you raised it: you obviously follow the US-China relationship very closely. There are some in India who are very nervous that Biden might try and strike some kind of detente with Beijing - a new president, you know, [thinking] "I can kind of work my diplomatic magic with Xi Jinping" - I think New Delhi is nervous about that. How well-founded are such concerns?
Well, I understand them. They're not irrational. India's had to deal with American presidents changing their mind about China, most famously in 1971, as everybody will remind people. Also, more recently, I think they saw an Obama administration at the start, for example, for various reasons - either because of the desire for a climate change deal, or - at least, this is the not just the Indian but the Asian view of this, that because he wanted certain kinds of cooperation with China, he didn't take them on in terms of what they were doing in terms of island-building, for example, in the South China Sea in a strong enough manner. You can debate that, but that is the impression. So, I understand the concerns. I think a couple of things I would say is, at least during the campaign, you've seen Joe Biden himself call Xi Jinping a thug, you've seen the campaign take very strident positions on issues like Taiwan, or even on Tibet, making certain commitments, for example, meeting the Dalai Lama, which Trump did not do - for that matter, Modi has not done so, as well. But, also, things like calling Xinjiang a genocide, the camps in Xinjiang as an example of genocide, something that even the Trump administration has not done, as well as saying, "Look, we're not going to remove tariffs that the Trump administration has imposed on China without actually perhaps linking it to some verifiable promises on the Chinese side.” So, I do think you've seen a broader approach on the hill - you see a bipartisan kind of concern about China, and I think where we are is that US-China competition is here to stay. The concern, and I think it's worth watching, is what exactly will be the terms and degree of that competition? And there will be some sort of re-engagement with China that the Biden administration should do. It's worth not overreacting to that, but instead to watch what that cooperation entails. Because it is true: it is likely that on non-proliferation - that means North Korea and Iran - on climate change and global health security, there will be a desire to engage China. The question is, does the Biden administration then in return say that, "Okay, we will limit competition with China, will limit criticism of it." And I think that will perhaps be a source of concern for some for some in Delhi. I think the other thing that I suspect folks in Delhi will watch very closely is, the Trump administration backed India quite vigorously in the midst of this China-India boundary crisis. Will the Biden administration continue? I think the good thing, in some ways, is it's not just the view in the US that has become more realistic about China. In almost every US European and Asian ally, every one of them, there's been growing concern about China. So, today, it's not just India saying you need to be tougher on China - it's a lot more constituencies. So, like I said, US-China competition is probably here to say, but the nuances of that will matter as well - the kind of engagement that a Biden administration will undertake with Beijing.
So, on that, there's been a lot of talk about Kamala Harris - far too much attention, in my view, has been paid to this kind of off-the-cuff remark she gave on Kashmir as indicative of her view on Indian domestic policy, Similarly, people kind of harped on her defense of Pramila Jayapal and her being snubbed by the Indian foreign minister. Leaving that aside for a second, do you think, as a Vice President, is she important to the US-India relationship? Like, does her Indian heritage end up being a net negative or net positive? How do you see her role in this bilateral association?
Now, I agree with you completely that that almost throwaway remark at a campaign event last year was really kind of blown out of proportion. I do think she matters, though, and I think she matters merely because, or largely because, the symbolism of her being Vice President is so enormous, and the amount of attention this has garnered in India is so enormous, which means that no matter what she says one way or the other is liable to be scrutinized and blown up, as we've already seen. So, in that sense, I'm not saying that she's going to directly have a particularly large policymaking role in policy toward India. I mean, she may or may not - I'm not aware of that. But I do think, merely because of her heritage and the fact that many Indians are struck by the enormity of this moment, someone whose mother was from India being in the White House - I do think that whatever she says will matter.
Tanvi, just one last question on this before we move on: as our resident historian, let me ask you, when the history books are written, what do you think they're going to say about Trump's management of the US-India partnership if you kind of reflect on these past four years?
I think perhaps they'll say more about the Trump administration's handling rather than Trump himself. I think the history books will say that this became a more high-maintenance relationship for India, but they will also say that there was remarkable continuity, in some ways, and even forward progress, some thanks to China. But regardless, I think particularly in the defense, security, and diplomatic space, this would be a very impactful period. Looking back, there will, I suspect, be some counterfactuals asked about whether certain Indian domestic developments would have been undertaken had there been a different president. But I think we’ll largely see that both the Trump administration was a very high-maintenance relationship for India's administration to handle, and that it showed, especially relative to other US relationships, a fair amount of steadiness. And so, the way I thought about it is the US-India relationship doesn't need repair now - it probably needs some rebalancing so it's not so heavy just on the defense and security and diplomatic side, no matter how important that sphere is.
Can I quickly just jump in? I mean, I agree with Tanvi, and I just want to add that I think both sides deserve some credit for keeping this on the rails, right? I mean, who would have guessed that you'd have Trump in Ahmedabad talking about Vivekananda. Who would have ever imagined? So, I mean, credit on both sides.
Tim, remind me in the show notes - we need to include the viral YouTube Swami "Vivekamunand" dance remix with Donald Trump, which is now implanted in all of our brains.
I think it makes a great workout mix. So, if the guy - I'm sorry, I forget his name, but it's in the link - if he's listening, please extend that so that all of us can put it on our workout mixes.
Let us switch to our second topic, which is the Bihar elections. You know, it's funny what expectations do, right? This victory by the BJP-led alliance seems very convincing relative to expectations, which were that a lot of the exit polls and pre-polls suggested that they would lose. But here we are: the BJP alliance with Nitish Kumar at the helm, one of India's longest-serving Chief Ministers, was brought back to power. There are many people who are arguing, I think with some degree of evidence, that the results of this election are kind of a reaffirmation of Modi's leadership and the BJP's performance at the center. Do you think, though, that these results in a state - it's a big state and an important state, but do they tell us anything about how people view the central government? Do they tell us anything about the kind of national mood?
I think, in fairness, yes. Let's just take the counterfactual: if Modi had lost, I think many of us - I certainly would have interpreted this at least in part as evidence of unhappiness about his handling of COVID, about the state of the economy, and so on. So, the fact that the BJP has come back - I mean, you have to sort of accept that Modi remains a very powerful electoral force in the Hindi heartland. In many ways, I think the most interesting aspect of this is the diminution of Nitish Kumar. Not that long ago, Nitish Kumar was a figure from the Hindi heartland who many people spoke of as a potential Prime Minister, and he very self-consciously tried to portray himself as someone who was practicing a different form of politics from Modi. He was, you know, reluctant to be seen on stage with Modi - at one point he pulled out of the NDA when Modi was made the prime ministerial candidate - and in the end, all these years later in 2020, what we see is that Modi is the dominant figure in the Hindi heartland, and Nitish Kumar, who once - at least, for some of his supporters - represented some kind of alternative or some kind of potential long-term challenge is a diminished man. And, to me, that's kind of the larger takeaway from these elections.
Tanvi, I feel like we're playing a broken record here. You know - "the opposition put up a valiant fight but fell short in the end." I think there's pretty unambiguous evidence, hard data, that the Congress party's subpar performance did help drag down the overall performance of the opposition grand alliance that was led by another regional party, the RJD, and if you just look at the Congress Party's strike rate, for instance, and their performance in terms of number of seats - again, this is a question that we've all pondered, but I'm wondering what your answer is: as of November 2020, why do you think the party continues to have such a hard time getting its act together? It has now been six years in the opposition wilderness at the federal level. What's your take on what's happening?
I mean, rinse and repeat. Right? We have this discussion every time. And they've had some gains in the middle - they didn't come up badly in Maharashtra, for example - but I think we hear similar scenes after these elections, which is, not having a good enough ground game, not doing alliance formation properly, having been cash-strapped. They're all linked to each other, of course. Also, not listening to local leaders, organizers. And then we hear a debate between, "Well, did they parachute leaders from Delhi, are they different factions..." So, we keep hearing the same thing and over. Above all this is the constant debate about the family's role, the Gandhi family's role in leadership, and whether that needs another relook. Now, the Congress Party seems committed to Rahul Gandhi's taking on the role of leadership of the party again, but if clearly something is not working, whether that's... Two things. One, organization: if anything, the US election, for example, shows, how did the Democrats turn states that were red, Arizona and Georgia, blue, or at least like blue? Organization. Ground game matters, and I think that matters everywhere in democracies, I think. But the other question is, there really needs to be a look at what the Congress Party thinks resonates. This is a time - as Sadanand said, it's a trifecta of crises - national security, with China sitting on territory India claims, a health crisis, and an economic crisis - and they still could not send a message through, and instead go down rabbit holes in terms of some issues that don't resonate. So, it's the message, it's the messenger, and it's the ground game, as well.
Sadanand, I want to ask you about your favorite Indian politician, Rahul Gandhi, who, according to Twitter, you're like his campaign manager at this point, since you've had so many favorable calls about him. How much blame do you think he deserves? I mean, is this a solvable problem as long as he's technically not at the helm but clearly kind of occupying the space of the heir apparent?
So, I wrote a piece about this in the Times of India a couple of years ago, which was titled "Rahul Gandhi Can't be Fixed." And so I've come down very clearly on one side of this, and it's nothing personal - I just think that, after a point, someone has either showed that they have basic political skills or they don't, and at this point, how much more evidence do we need to accept the fact - I mean, even Barack Obama has figured it out, right? That this guy, he may have very nice human virtues, and may be a good guy to have a beer with or whatever, but he's not cut out for leading a political party to victory in India. And that's just a reality that most Indians seem to have grasped, but it's not a reality that the Congress - or certainly the coterie around him and the coterie around the family - seems to grasp. So, it's a kind of slow-moving train wreck. And I just don't see any resolution because I can't imagine that the Congress is suddenly going to develop the wherewithal to turf him out or to turf out the family because they've been a private limited company ever since the late sixties, since Indira Gandhi - that's just the nature of the party. And, at the same time, I find it very, very hard to believe that voters are suddenly going to wake up and say that, "Well, you know, we've been wrong all these years, and in fact, we think that Raul Gandhi is exactly what this country needs."
Just one thing I want to say - unfortunately for the Congress, they also face the challenge that they're up against probably a once-in-a-generation politician, a formidable politician in the form of Narendra Modiu. It would be hard in any case, just like Indra Gandhi, once upon a time, was hard for the opposition to take on. They tried, they came together for three years, and then couldn't last, and she came back. You know, there's also that. So, it's not just the Congress - they're up against a major challenge.
Just for our listeners who may not be paying attention to the minutiae - in a New York Times review of former President Barack Obama's memoir, which I think was out on Monday, the review mentioned some of his comments on Rahul Gandhi, in which Obama apparently has written: "Rahul Gandhi has a nervous, unformed quality about him, as if he were a student who’d done the coursework and was eager to impress the teacher but deep down lacked either the aptitude or the passion to master the subject." This begs the question of what Obama has to say about Modi, which we're not going to know for some time because Obama's memoir is written in two parts, and the first part which is coming out ends in 2011. So, we have to stay tuned for the Modi assessment. But Sadanand, just coming back to the state politics - we have a bunch of elections coming up next year, and some really important states: Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal. The BJP is a force in at least two of these, Assam and West Bengal. Do you think the Bihar elections hold any lessons for how the opposition positions itself as they come together and think about strategy in the states next year?
I think the Bihar election in the end ended up being fairly close, and the Tejashwi Yadav showed that if the opposition organizes itself around a leader who shows flair and energy and vigor, they can run the BJP close. And this election could very well have gone in the other direction, and we would all be having a different conversation right now. Of the states that you mentioned, I think the ones the two that are the most interesting are probably going to be Bengal and Assam, and that's because of some of the identity politics issues that we've been talking about, and some of the questions of how India deals with its Muslim minority or how the BJP deals with the fact that both in Assam and in West Bengal, the opposition appeals to a large Muslim electorate, and whether they kind of end up using inflammatory rhetoric or whether they try to tamp that down. I think those are the sort of aspects of those two elections, at least, that are going to be watched outside of India.
And let's not forget that both of those states will bring in two major flashpoints. One is the Citizenship Amendment Act, and the other is the National Register of Citizens, which is already being implemented in Assam, and, of course, the BJP has a proposal to expand it or scale it up. So, these are things which we're not hearing a lot about right now, they've overtaken by events, but certainly will come back into the dialogue once those elections take place. Let me end as we always do by asking you guys if you could point our listeners to a news story coming out of India that you think they should be paying attention to but might not be focused on at the moment. Tanvi, do you have anything for us?
I do. I think what I would point to is something that in perhaps normal circumstances would have got more attention, which the quadrilateral exercise that is ongoing. It's a maritime exercise, the Malabar, which is the US and India one - it became a US, India, Japan one a few years ago. And in a pretty significant move that people have been calling for and waiting for ages, India invited Australia to join as well, making this a Quad exercise. The first phase has been completed, and that was in the eastern Indian Ocean. You're going to see a phase upcoming in the western Indian Ocean, a more sophisticated part of the exercise. This is something that people have been hoping for or wanting or criticizing, and yet it's just happened and it's gotten very little attention, I think partly because of everything else that's going on in the world, but it is a significant moment. And while it shouldn't be overestimated, it shouldn't be underestimated, either.
Sadanand, what about you? Outside of the Bihar elections, is there a story that you have your eye on?
I think some of these "sons of the soil" regulations we're seeing at the state level are both interesting and also quite disturbing. The one in particular that caught my eye was one in Haryana, where Gurugram is, where they basically said that 75% of certain kinds of jobs have to be reserved for "sons of the soil," or citizens of the state. And I think what you're going to see, particularly because of job losses of its COVID, but even more broadly, the fact that the Indian economy was not creating enough jobs is increasing local pressure on politicians to do these kinds of things, even though their impact, both in terms of economic efficiency and in terms of national integration, are quite deleterious.
You know, one story that I would recommend, and we'll link to this in the show notes, is a piece by Shoaib Daniyal, who's a terrific reporter at Scroll, who has a piece about whether the events around the Citizenship Amendment Act and the NRC and the protests that followed might be facilitating the creation of a pan-Indian Muslim identity. And one piece of evidence that he points toward is the success of the AIMIM, the party of Asaduddin Owaisi, which is a party that is based in Hyderabad - that has been their traditional bailiwick - but which won a number of seats in the Bihar Assembly elections - they have won previously in the state of Maharashtra - and so it's a small sign, but what's interesting is that many people kind of put out this hypothesis in the wake of the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir that other Muslims outside of Kashmir would see the way that Kashmiri Muslims were treated, but he points to something different, which is really the CAA protests. And so I think that's just an interesting story and something to keep a watch out for to see if this actually takes hold. You know, as most of our listeners know, this is not something that we that we have seen in the past - it has been a very fractured community, just like many other communities in India. Tanvi, who had the best week in India? Any nominees?
I don't want to be boring and say Modi having survived or done well even through this trifecta of crises, but I'll do another one, which is Indian American voters. Suddenly they were getting a lot of attention, but I think the outcomes and the results in a lot of states within, you know, 10,000, 15,000, 20,000 votes, states like Arizona where the Indian American population is likely to grow - in Georgia as well, in the suburbs, you see the population is growing, and that's the areas where Indian Americans' numbers are increasing. But I think also that, you know - you've seen these boulders like Latino voters or African American men, but now they're up for grabs, and so I think you might see parties now actually trying to kind of do this microtargeting in a way that they didn't perhaps do for the Asian American community broadly and Indian Americans. But now that it's started, I think you might see more of it.
Sadanand, what about you? Any nominees for best week in India?
I will also not be boring and say Modi, but I would say that the BJP or J.P. Nadda, the BJP president - this was a big test for him. He's been in the shadow, obviously, of Modi and Amit Shah, and I think Bihar was a test that he has managed to pass. And I think to the extent that it represents Modi and Shah trying to put in place a next rung of leadership that is going to kind of take over and steward the party's future - that's certainly someone to keep an eye on.
So, I have a nominee, which has not had much good news in the last many years, which is the left. The Communist Party took, I think, 12 seats in the Bihar Assembly elections. This is the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), the CPIM, and the CPI. And, you know, it's interesting because there is this puzzle that I think political scientists have tried to grapple with, which is, at a time of such inequality, a kind of crisis of capitalism of globalization, why is it that the left has seemed so dormant and out of it in India? And this is a kind of interesting mini-resurgence. I don't think we should overstate the case, but for a party which has been losing uniformly around the country, I found at least interesting that they seem to have done reasonably well - certainly better than a lot of expectations in these Bihar elections. Alright, now we come to the hard one: who had the worst week in India.
So, you know, I have an Indian one, which would be the boring one, which is pollsters and those who haven't learned their lesson and started pontificating on the basis of exit polls. But I want to add one in the US-India context, and I think that's the narrative in India of Indian Americans and their role in American politics, and policy in particular, but society in general. We've had - and this is not something I'm making up - we've had commentary in India that Indian Americans should both be objective about India because to do a loyalty thing, they had to be tougher on India because they have to prove their objectivity, and we've had [commentary that] the only real Americans are white Americans, the only true-blue Americans are white Americans. And I hope some of those get busted with the fact that you're going to see somebody who has deep family ties, even to this day, in India has not hidden the fact that she is Indian - a family that still names their children Indian names is going to be vice president of the United States, if we get out of this democratic stress test - and that in the 2024 race, one of the people who will likely run against this Biden-Harris administration will be another Indian American. So, I hope that loser narrative gets killed for a bit.
What about you, Sadanand? Any nominees for worse?
Not only did she steal my nominee, but she also dissed it by calling it boring! I have to say that it's pollsters and pundits - I mean, both in the US and in India, right? I had kind of been checked out of the Bihar election, but if you've sort of just followed it loosely, you would have assumed on the day of counting that the NDA was on its way out and the RJD led by Tejashwi Yadav was on the way in, and the speculation was, you know, would it be getting a big majority or a slender one? And I think that what this kind of points to for all of us - because, you know, this is our business to such a large extent - is the degree to which we ourselves only have a partial view of reality. Maybe we never had a full view, but I think in the past, we could at least claim with a degree of confidence to have a fuller view then than what we have now. So, for me, both the US election and the Bihar election calls for kind of introspection and paying more attention to what exactly we don't know when we think we know things.
For me, I think one of the losers - I think Tanvi you've nominated this one before - is freedom of speech and the free press. I mean, we see India's arguably most famous TV personality-slash-journalist, Arnab Goswami, was arrested just recently - got bail courtesy of the Supreme Court - with a lot of people quite gleeful of his arrest. But then it just also casts a spotlight on the number of democratic activists, members of civil society, other journalists who don't have the name brand that Arnab has who are still in jail on very thin or flimsy charges who get almost no or very little mainstream media attention. I think it just tells you how far we yet have to travel on basic fundamental rights of free expression, freedom of media, the right to dissent, and so on and so forth. So, for me anyway, I think that's something that remains deeply troubling, and I wish that we had political parties who would have an enlightened platform on some of these issues, but I think we that will have to come at some future, indeterminate date. Sadanand Dhume of the Wall Street Journal, Tanvi Madan of the Brookings Institution - thank you guys for coming back. It's always good to have you. And enjoy the weekend.
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