The 2020 US elections: What’s at stake for India?

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Trump’s 2016 election victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton threw up a number of uncertainties for India. The first was how closed or open the U.S. would be on matters of trade, immigration, investment, and technology. The second concerned what approach he would adopt to China: confrontation, competition, cooperation, or confusion. This matter was particularly important because it would have had implications for the wider region and the world at large.

The third uncertainty was how he would approach the issue of terrorism, particularly with respect to Afghanistan and Pakistan. And the fourth was what priority he would give to international institutions, and what that would mean for Indian membership and activity.

The Trump administration’s overall approach and Indian engagement with Washington helped to ensure that these areas either witnessed intensified cooperation or that damage was mitigated. The Trump administration’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy, driven largely by a more competitive relationship with China, benefited India in various ways, including in bilateral defence cooperation and higher degrees of strategic coordination. The Trump administration decreased barriers for India to receive sensitive technologies, building upon some of the work done in the last two years of the Obama administration.

Coordination on multilateral cooperation and Afghanistan improved, although not without bumps on the road. Occasional difficulties did arise with respect to Pakistan, given Washington’s continued equities; on immigration, although radical reform was limited by logjams in the U.S. Congress; and especially on trade, where India was singled out for its high tariffs. Nonetheless, despite squabbling on the terms of commerce, overall two-way trade between India and the U.S. continued to rise throughout the Trump presidency while the trade deficit in India’s favour narrowed.

Two other complications arose subsequently. The first was the Trump administration’s hardening attitude to Iran, beginning with his unilateral withdrawal from the nuclear agreement concluded by his predecessor Barack Obama: the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The renewal of U.S. sanctions on Iran had implications for Indian energy security. The second complication involved attempts led by the U.S. Congress to constrain Trump’s ability to engage with Russia. The resulting legislation, known as Countering American Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), threatened sanctions on countries for major defence agreements with Russia.

India, as the largest foreign recipient of Russian defence exports, initially looked like a probable target. At the same time, Trump’s disregard for other countries’ internal affairs meant that the official U.S. response to major changes in India — including the nullification of Article 370, which granted special status to Jammu and Kashmir, and the passage of a contested Citizenship Amendment Act — was relatively muted.

Essentially, Trump’s election had a significant impact on nine issues of importance for India. All will in some sense be at stake in November 2020. On the strategic side, this involved U.S. policy towards China, Russia, Afghanistan/Pakistan, and Iran/Middle East. In terms of bilateral relations, the primary issues relate to trade, immigration, investment, technology, and values.

Republican Vs Democratic Priorities

Joe Biden’s victory would provide relief to India in several areas. Not only would there be more structure and stability to a Biden administration, but the Trump administration’s obsession with redressing trade deficits, curtailing legal and illegal immigration, and isolating Iran will no longer factor prominently in U.S. policy. Indeed, a second Trump administration will likely redouble its efforts to stem immigration, rebalance trade, and harden its stance on Iran — all of which would contribute further to Indian discomfort. Furthermore, a Democratic presidency will put one important but dormant area of cooperation — on climate change, green energy, and sustainability — back on the table with India.

By contrast, other issues might become more of a concern to the present government in New Delhi in the event of a Democratic win. Depending on who occupies key positions in the executive branch of the government, we may see under a Joe Biden presidency a return to a more even-handed policy between India and Pakistan in South Asia, although not perhaps to the same degree as the 1990s and early 2000s. A Biden administration, with advocacy from the left wing of the Democratic Party, will also likely be more vocal in its criticism of India for such steps as nullifying Article 370 and CAA.

On other issues — such as investment flows and technology sharing — the consequences of the 2020 presidential elections for India will be less clear-cut. Of these, U.S. policy on China will be by far the most consequential. Trump triggered a trade war that caught Beijing by surprise. Beyond trade, his administration has taken other aggressive steps towards decoupling the U.S. and Chinese economies, including steps on students and technology.

At the same time, his withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and defunding of the World Health Organisation have been criticised as counter-productive. Democrats have also criticized his administration for cutting spending in areas such as scientific research and development, that would enable the U.S. to better compete with China. While the bipartisan consensus on China as a competitor has grown in the U.S., there remain differences between the parties as to how best to compete. Furthermore, constituencies outside the national security, human rights, and intelligence communities

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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