The vice-presidential debate is over in the US. Though early polls indicate that Kamala Harris has won the debate, Joe Biden's pick of the India-origin Democrat senator as his running mate for the November 3 presidential election has elicited a variety of emotional responses in this country — from joy to disappointment to skepticism.
While some have expressed hope for better relations with the US under the Biden administration, expecting Harris to play a key role in easing up the immigration of skilled professionals to America that has been choked by the incumbent president, others are apprehensive about her hard stance on human rights issues in Indian-controlled Kashmir.
On August 11, Harris became the first woman of colour and the first person of Indian origin to be nominated as the Democrat vice-presidential candidate for the US presidential elections 2020.
"Being the eldest daughter of a Jamaican father and an Indian mother, her nomination has been widely seen as historic not only in the US but also across the Caribbean as well as the sub-continent. At the same time, Biden has thrust immigration policy back into the limelight by picking as his running mate Harris, who herself is a daughter of two immigrants," says N. Ravi, an associate professor of Delhi University.
In fact, the Biden-Harris campaign has already promised that the duo will overhaul the H-1B visa system — a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ specially skilled foreign workers — as well as eliminate the country-quota system for Green Cards.
"Though it's widely perceived as a move to lure the influential Indian-American community to vote for the Democrat nominees, it would eventually be a win-win situation for thousands of young Indian IT professionals who are hired every year by top companies like TCS and Infosys for providing low-cost manpower to clients in the US. And it's overall good for India also that's grappling with high unemployment rate," Ravi says.
Young IT professionals in India are also elated. "President Trump's administration has really made it harder for American companies to hire foreign workers as part of the annual lottery that awards 60,000 new slots every year. Many of our colleagues who have suffered up to 50% pay cuts during Covid-19 lockdown are now pinning hopes on Biden-Harris duo," says Ajay Giri, who works with an IT firm based in Gurgaon, a wealthy suburb of Delhi.
However, Rathin Banerjee, a retired Professor of Calcutta University who had spent over two years at a US university in the late 1990s, is a bit skeptical and has questioned Harris' record on immigration.
"It's not at all straight. Let me remind people that when Harris was California's attorney general, she had supported a San Francisco municipal policy that prompted law enforcement agencies to deport 'undocumented' youngsters, despite being the daughter of Shyamala Gopalan, who had moved to the US from India to pursue a doctoral degree," he says.
"But the good thing is that Harris subsequently changed her stance. Of late, she has emerged as a leading voice against President Trump's immigration policies. President Trump, of course, can take a U-turn next year if he wins this year's presidential election," Banerjee adds.
Well, not all pin hopes on Biden-Harris duo for betterment of bilateral relations, given the latter's stance on Kashmir, a disputed territory over which India and Pakistan have fought at least three major wars in the past 70 years.
"Harris has been a staunch critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi government's policy on the disputed territory of Kashmir. She had spoken against the revocation of special status to Kashmir, and also advocated international mediation. President Trump has, however, apparently turned a blind eye to India's Kashmir policy. That way, Republican Presidents have generally been more pro-India," says TK Dutta, a foreign affairs expert.
In fact, in one of her interviews last year, Harris had 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."
"But let's keep our fingers crossed," Banerjee aptly sums up.