This article is part of Election 2020: America Votes, FP's round-the-clock coverage of the incoming US election results with brief dispatches from correspondents and analysts from around the world. The America Votes page is free to all readers.
Indian Americans love Kamala Harris. Harris is the daughter of an Indian biologist who moved to the United States and has become one of the most respected cancer researchers in the country. He embodies the values of hard work, intellectual achievement and political engagement. As a U.S. Senator, she pushed for an immigration policy favored by the Indian-American community, including lifting country caps on H1-B fixed-term visas and maintaining employment rights for spouses of H1-B visa holders. And Indian Americans are understandably proud to have one of them rise to the top of the US political system.
But good for Indian Americans doesn't necessarily mean good for the current Indian government. On the contrary, the priorities of the Biden team (as far as we know so far) should drive a wedge between the United States and the oldest democracy in continental Asia at a time when Washington is looking for new allies in its strategic rivalry with China.
Harris could be part of that wedge himself. As a senator, Harris was diplomatically prudent in her few public comments on the Indian government, but showed no love for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Last year she even publicly criticized Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar while he was on an official visit to the United States. Jaishankar had refused to share a platform with US Representative Pramila Jayapal, the Indian-American sponsor of a House resolution calling on the Indian government to pursue policy in Kashmir.
Harris' own family connection with India could influence their attitudes. Her mother was from Tamil Nadu in southern India, a state where Modi's BJP did not win a single seat in the national parliamentary elections last year. Often referred to as the Hindu nationalist party, the BJP can also be seen as a regional movement that focuses on the Hindi heartland of northern India. This regional base has expanded in recent years, but Tamil Nadu – almost 90 percent Hindu speaking but not Hindi-speaking – remains a bastion of the opposition.
Harris himself has criticized the policies of the Indian government in Kashmir, strongly suggesting (without specifically saying) that it would place human rights at the center of its approach to India – and the rest of the world. That sounds like a basic political thought until you realize that in India “human rights” are often translated as “anti-BJP”. His domestic political critics failed to beat Modi in the elections and focused on politics and incitement against minorities like the 172 million Muslims in India. With Harris on the west wing, Modi's opponents in India could suddenly have a lot more influence.