About time too, because the United States has not had an ambassador in New Delhi for over two years now, from the time Kenneth Juster packed up on January 20, 2021, when there was a change of guard at the White House. It is the longest stretch New Delhi has been without a US ambassador.
When Thomas Pickering was moved to Moscow in March 1993 after serving as US ambassador in New Delhi for just under a year, it took the Clinton White House 14 months to nominate the next envoy, Frank Wisner. The delay was seen in some quarters as disregard — if not a slight — towards a country which at that time was a relative lightweight and distant partner to the US in a unipolar world.
Kenneth Brill, a distinguished US Foreign Service official, served as chargé d’affaires between March 1993 – August 1994. Still, it was seen as a snub for a coveted station that has seen some of America’s greatest diplomats. In July 1963, two of America’s finest literally crossed each other at the threshold — Chester Bowles going to New Delhi even as John Kenneth Galbraith was exiting.
So what explains this two year hiatus in New Delhi that has been filled by five charge d’affaires while an ambassadorial nominee waited in the wings for confirmation in Washington? Well, the one obvious answer is the famed Washington gridlock arising from deeply partisan politics.
Garcetti was originally nominated by President Biden to be the US ambassador to India on July 9, 2021. It took the Senate 20 months to confirm him — a tortured process that was stalled over accusations that he ignored sexual assault and harassment allegations against a former top aide.
It became such a mudfight that the initial nomination lapsed and President Biden had to re-nominate him earlier this year when the new Congress was seated after the mid-term election, saying he has “confidence in Mayor Garcetti and believes he will be an excellent representative in India at a critical moment and calls for the Senate to swiftly confirm him.”
The Senate eventually did in a bipartisan vote that saw three Democratic lawmakers vote against him and seven Republicans vote for him. The nays included one-time India supporter Sherrod Brown, Democrat from Ohio, who traveled across India as a young backpacker during the Emergency, and Mazie Hirono, Democrat from Hawaii.
“I’m thrilled with today’s outcome, which was a decisive and bipartisan decision to fill a critical post that has been vacant for far too long. Now the hard work begins,” Garcetti said in a statement, making light of the contentious process.
“I’m deeply grateful to President Biden and the White House for the confidence and support throughout this process, and for all Senators on both sides of the aisle — whether they voted for me or not — for their thoughtful consideration,” he added.
Indian activists and Indian-Americans were also relieved and thrilled to finally have a pointperson in New Delhi. “Eric Garcetti is an excellent choice to serve as US ambassador… The importance of India to the global economy and national security will only continue to grow over the coming years. Having a steady hand to guide our relationship with India is vital,” said Yogi Chugh, a California entrepreneur who hosted Garcetti for a dinner at his home last year with Ro Khanna, the Indian-American Congressman from Silicon Valley.
“Having led Los Angeles, one of the most vibrant cities in the world, Mayor Garcetti understands that working with all stakeholders will be essential in moving forward the most significant relationship of the 21st century, the US-India partnership. Eric has a deep understanding and affection towards India and the Indian people, and I have no doubt he will hit the ground running when he lands in Delhi,” Mukesh Aghi, President and CEO of US-India Strategic Partnership. Forum said, adding, “Eric brings the humility of a great leader who is constantly looking to improve and make a difference. He is also a big-picture guy!”