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The U.S. is sending an ambassador to India after leaving the job vacant for 26 months

Former Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti attends the 90th Anniversary of the Hollywood Christmas Parade on Nov. 27, 2022 in Hollywood, California.
Michael Tullberg
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Former Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti attends the 90th Anniversary of the Hollywood Christmas Parade on Nov. 27, 2022 in Hollywood, California.

MUMBAI, India — Across India, virtually all the headlines about Eric Garcetti's confirmation include one key word: "Finally."

A divided U.S. Senate late Wednesday confirmed Garcetti, a former mayor of Los Angeles, as the next U.S. ambassador to India. The vote was 52-42.

Washington had left its ambassador job in India vacant for 26 months – the longest stretch in the history of U.S.-Indian relations.

The gap came at a time of rising global tensions, and despite U.S. and Indian leaders saying they've become closer partners than ever before. "Among the closest we have on Earth," President Biden told Prime Minister Narendra Modi last year.

India is the world's most populous democracy, and Washington often sees it as a bulwark in Asia against a rising, authoritarian China, with which India shares a more than 2,000-mile border. Any day now, demographers say India will overtake China as the world's most populous country as well.

But while the U.S. and India share some strategic goals, they are not treaty allies, and have their differences. Just one example: Delhi has maintained ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, despite his invasion of Ukraine. Modi met with Putin in September, calling their countries' friendship "unbreakable," and his government continues to buy Russian oil and weapons.

The last U.S. ambassador to India, Kenneth Juster, left on Jan. 20, 2021. The following July, President Biden nominated Garcetti, a fellow Democrat, to replace him.

But Garcetti's nomination was held up amid questions of what he knew – and when – about sexual harassment allegations against one of his former top advisors at Los Angeles City Hall.

Three fellow Democrats voted against Garcetti's nomination. But he ultimately won over enough Republicans, some of whom explained their votes by saying India is too important of a diplomatic post to leave vacant any longer. One called it a "national security imperative."

"At long last," read the start of an article Thursday about Garcetti in the Times of India.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.