Indo-Russian relations are deep rooted with huge transfer of Russian technology for its economic development in earlier stages of development, leading strong economic and diplomatic relations since the onset of Cold War and after that. The economic growth and financial clout India has achieved owes much to Soviet assistance in state sector. Now Indian search for western nations for the purchase of technology and terror equipments has upset Moscow which has long stopped free support and arms to third world of which India benefited the most.
Currently, Russian sells costly Nuclear plants and military equipments including nuclear submarines and more orders have been placed by New Delhi for further purchases.
An unprecedented scandal broke out between Russia and India with Moscow suspecting that New Delhi granted US Navy representatives access to the Russian nuclear submarine of Project 971i, operated by the Indian Navy since 2011. According to reports, the incident threatens to seriously complicate negotiations both on the lease of the second nuclear submarine, and on other projects in the field of military-technical cooperation between the two countries.
In pursuing its own national interest and being under the severe economic sanctions by the Western powers for its retaking of Crimea form Ukriane, Russia does not take a stand on Indo-China tensions. After the military standoff between Chinese and Indian troops began near the Doklam plateau in June, Russia had been silent on the matter. Granted, Moscow had made few public comments about the border tensions. But so, too, had America and the EU, both of which knew that siding with one party would anger the other. However, Moscow felt that the dispute is rather balanced between China and India’s interests. The standoff eventually dissipated in August when the two nations agreed to withdraw their troops.
The Russian government, under tremendous pressure from New Delhi had tried to bring together the Indian and Chinese defense ministers for a meeting in Moscow. Beijing, however, reportedly did not show any interest in the matter. This was because India had angered China by hosting the Dalai Lama in Arunachal Pradesh, an Indian state that borders China’s “autonomous” region of Tibet. Maybe, it was an indication of Beijing’s distrust of Moscow’s real motives.
Like USA with its Asia pivot, Moscow also wants a more assertive India to counterbalance China’s growing hegemony in Asia.
India is keen to enlist the support of both USA and Russia for its efforts for ascension to having a permanent seat in a “reformed” UN Security Council, but India could not succeed as China officially opposed it. Similarly, India’s bid to become a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), a coalition of 48 nuclear supplier countries that control the export of nuclear equipment and technology, also failed as China raised serious objections as India refuses to sign the relevant treaty in force, not yet a signatory to the Non-Nuclear-Proliferation Treaty.
Russia sponsored India “mainly to constrain China’s growing influence in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a Eurasian security and economic bloc. Russia is concerned the post-Soviet SCO members like Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan “are drifting too far into China’s geostrategic orbit.
There have been serious concerns within Moscow and New Delhi that the other party is gravitating towards their adversaries. Russia knows India wants to form closer ties to the USA and European nations. India took part in talks with Japan, America and Australia over reforming the disbanded Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, an ostensible counter-China pact that seeks to curb Beijing’s expansionism in the South China Sea and Indian Ocean.
In June, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Moscow where Putin decorated him with the Order of St Andrew, Russia’s highest state award. Xi has visited Moscow more often than any other capital since coming to power in 2012, China’s warships engaged in the first-ever joint war games with the Russian fleet in the Baltic Sea. Russia and China “wanted to send a message to America and to audiences at home: we are united in opposing the West’s domination, and we are not afraid to show off our muscle in NATO’s backyard.”
Though it made some success in coercing USA to criticize Islamabad as the key sponsor of terrorism, New Delhi is indeed concerned about Russia’s relations with Pakistan, India’s long-time foe, which have been improving since the early 2000s. India is keen on strengthening the trilateral annual Russia-India-China (RIC) meetings to influence both the economic and technological powers but others are not much interested.
Russia, under Putin, has tried to defy a supposed unipolar global order led by America and, today, a united Europe overseen by the EU. Now, it appears, Russia is balking against a possible uni-polar Asia and Eurasia dominated by China. Supporting India, then, becomes a way for Russia to achieve this. But Western sanctions on Russia have meant it has had to move closer to China, further complicating its role as an intermediary between India and China.
Several sources in Russian state structures have confirmed that with the newspaper saying that the Indian partners have recently committed several “unfriendly acts towards Russia.” First, according to them, the US Navy delegation visited the aircraft carrier Vikramaditya (property of the Indian Navy) and Russian officials were forced to issue a note of protest. After some time, according to a high-ranking military source, the American delegation was already on board the Chakra.
The Kommersant’s source working in the military technical cooperation system, called the fact that the US Navy appeared on a Russian submarine (located on the base near Vishakhapatnam, pending repairs) outrageous. “There were well-trained technical specialists, though unlikely to get any real information,” the source said.
According to the newspaper, this whole string of incidents can have a very adverse impact on defense cooperation between the two countries, which has been successfully developing over the past five years. According to several sources, specialized Russian structures are preparing retaliatory measures against their Indian partners. “Very difficult conversations are on the horizon, we have a lot of questions,” a source said. Some who spoke to Kommersant believe that, in particular, the negotiations on leasing the second nuclear submarine, which the Indian Navy planned to obtain from Russia, will be seriously complicated.
According to Kommersant, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who intends to come to India in December with one of the largest deals on Russian arms, will have to iron out the problems that have accumulated. In addition to the Chakra issue, he must negotiate the creation of a fifth-generation fighter under an agreement which was signed back in 2007, but neither the airplane’s conception nor its financial parameters have been determined yet.
Perspectives of Indo-Russian relations
During the Cold War, India and the Soviet Union (USSR) enjoyed a strong strategic, military, economic and diplomatic relationship. After the collapse of the USSR, Russia inherited the close relationship with India, even as India improved its relations with the West after the end of the Cold War.
Traditionally, the Indo-Russian strategic partnership has been built on five major components: politics, defence, civil nuclear energy, anti-terrorism co-operation and space. These five major components were highlighted in a speech given by former Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai in Russia. However, in recent years a sixth component, economic, has grown in importance with both countries setting a target for US$30 billion in bilateral trade by 2025. In order to facilitate this target both countries are looking to develop a free trade agreement. Bilateral trade between both countries in 2012 grew by over 24%.
The powerful IRIGC is the main body that conducts affairs at the governmental level between both countries. Both countries are members of many international bodies where they jointly collaborate closely on matters of shared national interest. Important examples include the UN, BRICS, G20 and SCO Russia has stated publicly that it supports India receiving a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. In addition, Russia has expressed interest in joining SAARC with observer status in which India is a founding member.
India is the second largest market for the Russian defence industry. In 2004, more than 70% of the Indian Military’s hardware came from Russia, making Russia the chief supplier of defence equipment. India has an embassy in Moscow and two consulates-general (in Saint Petersburg and Vladivostok). Russia has an embassy in New Delhi and four consulates-general (in Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, and Mumbai).
According to a 2014 BBC World Service Poll, 45% of Russians view India positively, with only 9% expressing a negative view
A cordial relationship with India that began in the 1950s represented the most successful of the Soviet attempts to foster closer relations with Third World countries. The relationship began with a visit by Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to the Soviet Union in June 1955 and Khrushchev’s return trip to India in the fall of 1955. While in India, Khrushchev announced that the Soviet Union supported Indian sovereignty over the disputed territory of the Kashmir region and over Portuguese coastal enclaves such as Goa
The Soviet Union gave India substantial economic and military assistance during the Khrushchev period, and by 1960 India had received more Soviet assistance than China had. This disparity became another point of contention in Sino-Soviet relations. In 1962 the Soviet Union agreed to transfer technology to co-produce the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 jet fighter in India, which the Soviet Union had earlier denied to China
In 1965 the Soviet Union served successfully as peace broker between India and Pakistan after an Indian-Pakistani border war. In 1971 the former East Pakistan region initiated an effort to secede from its political union with West Pakistan. India supported the secession and, as a guarantee against possible Chinese entrance into the conflict on the side of West Pakistan, it signed with the Soviet Union the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation in August 1971. In December, India entered the conflict and ensured the victory of the secessionists and the establishment of the new state of Bangladesh.
Relations between the Soviet Union and India did not suffer much during the rightist Janata Party’s coalition government in the late 1970s, although India did move to establish better economic and military relations with Western countries. To counter these efforts by India to diversify its relations, the Soviet Union proffered additional weaponry and economic assistance.
The first major political initiative, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, between India and Russia began with the Strategic Partnership signed between the two countries in 2000.
Both countries closely collaborate on matters of shared national interest these include at the UN, BRICS, G20 and SCO where India has observer status and has been asked by Russia to become a full member. Russia also strongly supports India receiving a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. In addition, Russia has vocally backed India joining the NSG and APEC. Moreover, it has also expressed interest in joining SAARC with observer status in which India is a founding member.
Russia currently is one of only two countries in the world (the other being Japan) that has a mechanism for annual ministerial-level defence reviews with India.
The Soviet Union has been an important supplier of defence equipment for several decades. Russia 68%, USA 14% and Israel 7.2% are the major arms suppliers to India (2012-2016), and India and Russia have deepened their Make in India defence manufacturing cooperation by signing agreements for the construction of naval frigates, KA-226T twin-engine utility helicopters (joint venture (JV) to make 60 in Russia and 140 in India), Brahmos cruise missile (JV with 50.5% India and 49.5% Russia) (Dec 2017 update). In December 1988, an India–Russia co-operation agreement was signed, which resulted in the sale of a multitude of defence equipment to India Now,
The co-operation is not limited to a buyer-seller relationship but includes joint research and development, training, service to service contacts, including joint exercises. In 2012, both countries signed a defence deal worth $2.9 billion during President Putin’s visit to India for the 42 new Sukhois to be produced under licence by defence PSU Hindustan Aeronautics, which will add to the 230 Sukhois earlier contracted from Russia. Overall, the price tag for the 272 Sukhois – three of the over 170 inducted till now have crashed – stands at over $12 billion.
Bilateral trade between both countries is concentrated in key value chain sectors. These sectors include highly diversified segments such as machinery, electronics, aerospace, automobile, commercial shipping, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, fertilisers, apparels, precious stones, industrial metals, petroleum products, coal, high-end tea and coffee products. Bilateral trade in 2002 stood at $1.5 billion and increased by over 7 times to $11 billion in 2012 and with both governments setting a bilateral trade target of $30 billion by 2025.
Russia has stated it will co-operate with India on its “Make in India” initiative by engagement in the development of “Smart Cites”, the DMIC, the aerospace sector, the commercial nuclear sector and enhancement in manufacturing of Russian military products through co-development and co-production over $100 billion
On 7 November 2009, India signed a new nuclear deal with Russia apart from the deals that were agreed upon by the two countries earlier.India and Russia are in discussion for construction of two more nuclear power units at Kudankulam. Russia has agreed to build more than 20 nuclear reactors over the next 20 years. Running until 2030, sixteen to eighteen new reactors will be constructed, with installed capacity of 1,000 MWeach. A 1,000 MW reactor costs around $2.5 billion so the deal may touch $45 billion in worth
India is currently the world’s largest cutting & polishing centre for diamonds. Both countries have agreed to streamline their bilateral trade in diamonds through reductions in regulations and tariffs. Indian oil companies have invested in the Russia’s oil sector a notable example is ONGC-Videsh which has invested over $8 billion with major stakes in oil fields such Sakhalin-1.. Both countries have discussed how to increase co-operation between their countries respective IT industries. Historically, there has been a long history of cooperation between the Soviet Union and India in space. Examples include Aryabhata it was India’s first satellite, named after an Indian astronomer of the same name. It was launched by the Soviet Union on 19 April 1975.
The ongoing collaboration in the field of science & technology, under the Integrated Long-Term Programme of Co-operation (ILTP) is the largest co-operation programme in this sphere for both India and Russia.. The North–South Transport Corridor is the ship, rail, and road route for moving freight between India, Russia, Iran, Europe and Central Asia. The route primarily involves moving freight from India, Iran, Azerbaijan and Russia via ship, rail and road. The objective of the corridor is to increase trade connectivity between major cities such as Mumbai, Moscow, Tehran, Baku, Bandar Abbas, Astrakhan, Bandar Anzali etc.
On international terrorism, India and Russia agree that there is no justification for terrorism- both state and non-state ones. Russia and India are going to hold a joint war game in October in Russia’s far east, close to China. Russia and India have held annual Indra exercises since 2003, but what is different this time is that it’s the first ever combined force drill. As the standoff between China and India goes on in the Doklam area and neither country shows intention to back down, Russia seems to not only hedge its bets on both sides, but also benefit from the tensions. Russia has been constantly enhancing diplomatic relations and military cooperation with China recently. In early May, during the Belt and Road Forum held in Beijing, China and Russia agreed to maintain a high level comprehensive strategic partnership and to reinforce all-round cooperation.
Other than the mega military exercises, India is going to purchase Russian weapons worth $10 billion and the negotiation has come to the final stage after the meeting mentioned above. The weapons projects include the purchase of S-400 air defense systems, the acquisition of four Admiral Grigorovich-class frigates and the acquisition of 200 Kamov 226T light utility helicopters, or LUH
Officials from both countries have discussed how to increase co-operation between their countries respective IT industries with possible joint projects in the field and closer contacts between Russian and Indian companies. The development of IT products and software has traditionally been a strong point of India. We welcome
Due to India simplifying recent visa rule changes for Russians travelling to India, the number of tourists increased by over 22%.In 2011 the Indian consulates in Moscow, Vladivostok and St. Petersburg issued 160,000 visas, an increase of over 50% compared to 2010.
Russian imports from India amounted to $3.1 billion or 1% of its overall imports, and 0.7% of India’s overall exports in 2014. The 10 major commodities exported from India to Russia were:
Due to India simplifying recent visa rule changes for Russians travelling to India, the number of tourists increased by over 22%.In 2011 the Indian consulates in Moscow, Vladivostok and St. Petersburg issued 160,000 visas, an increase of over 50% compared to 2010.
Russian imports from India amounted to $3.1 billion or 1% of its overall imports, and 0.7% of India’s overall exports in 2014. The 10 major commodities exported from India to Russia were
Both governments have long viewed their bilateral trade well below its optimal potential, with the only long term way of rectifying this through having a Free trade agreement (FTA). It is predicted once an FTA is in place bilateral trade will increase manifold, thereby significantly increasing the importance of economics in bilateral ties.
“…India-Russia relationship is one of deep friendship and mutual confidence that would not be affected by transient political trends. Russia has been a pillar of strength at difficult moments in India’s history. India will always reciprocate this support. Russia is and will remain our most important defense partner and a key partner for our energy security, both on nuclear energy and hydrocarbons.” -— Former Indian President Pranab Mukherjee, about relations with Russia.
India’s Unclear Neighbourhood Policy: How to Overcome ?
India has witnessed multiple trends with regards to its relations with its neighbours at a time vaccine diplomacy is gaining prominence and Beijing increasing the pace towards becoming an Asian superpower, whereby making these reasons valid for New Delhi to have a clear foreign policy with respect to its neighbourhood.
The Covid Pandemic has led to increased uncertainty in the global order where it comes to power dynamics, role of international organisations. New Delhi has tried to leave no stone unturned when it comes to dealing with its immediate neighbours. It has distributed medical aid and vaccines to smaller countries to enhance its image abroad at a time it has witnessed conflicts with China and a change in government in Myanmar. These developments make it imperative for New Delhi to increase its focus on regionalism and further international engagement where this opportunity could be used tactically amidst a pandemic by using economic and healthcare aid.
According to Dr. Arvind Gupta, New Delhi has to deal with threats coming from multiple fronts and different tactics where it is essential for New Delhi to save energy using soft means rather than coercive measures.. India under Vaccine Maitri has supplied many of COVAXIN doses to Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka where many have appreciated this move. The urgency of ensuring humanitarian aid during these periods of unprecedented uncertainty are essential in PM Modi’s Security and Growth For All ( SAGAR) initiative, which focusses on initiating inclusive growth as well as cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region.
This pandemic witnessed various threats coming in India’s neighbourhood through multiple dimensions which include maritime, land, cyber as well as air threats where adversaries are using these to put pressure on New Delhi to settle land as well as marine disputes as per their terms. These encirclement strategies have made it necessary for India to open up various options such as holding maritime joint exercises with like-minded countries, developing partnerships, providing economic as well as healthcare support to weaker countries plus having a clear insight about changing global dynamics and acting as per them.
This piece will discuss about various changing tactics, pros and cons which India has with respect to developing its national security vis-à-vis its neighbourhood, why should it prioritise its neighbourhood at the first place?
India’s Neighbourhood is filled with many complexities and a lot of suspicion amongst countries, some viewing India because of its size and geography plus economic clout as a bully where it is wanting to dominate in the region putting others aside. This led to New Delhi play an increased role in nudging ties first with its neighbours with whom it had multiple conflicts as well as misunderstandings leading to the latter viewing Beijing as a good alternative in order to keep India under check.
Ever since PM Modi has taken charge at 7 RCR, India’s Neighbourhood First Policy has been followed increasingly to develop relations, to enhance understandings and ensure mutual cooperation as well as benefit with its neighbours. The relations with Islamabad have not seen so much improvement as compared to other leaders in the past. Even though former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was invited for PM Modi’s 1st Swearing In ceremony in 2014, terrorist activities have never stopped which could be seen through Pathankot, Uri and Pulwama terror attacks which killed many of the Indian soldiers. Even though surgical strikes were conducted on terror camps in retaliation to these bombardments, Islamabad has not changed its heart at all about its security or regional demands. New strategies and friendships are being developed where Beijing has played a major role in controlling power dynamics.
The Belt and Road initiative, first time mentioned during President Xi’s 2013 speech in Kazakhstan, then officially in 2015, lays emphasis of achieving a Chinese Dream of bringing countries under one umbrella, ensuring their security, providing them with infrastructure projects such as ports, railways, pipelines, highways etc. The main bottleneck is the China Pakistan Economic Corridor when it comes to India’s security threats, passing through disputed boundaries of Gilgit and Baltistan in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir till Gwadar. Other projects have been initiated in Chittagong, Hambantota, Gwadar , Kyapkyou. These projects form a String Of Pearls in the Indo Pacific where New Delhi is being balanced against through economic plus development incentives being given to the member countries under the project. That’s why in the recent past, New Delhi is asserting its influence in the region, looking at new dimensional threats where Beijing’s threats in the maritime domain in the islands in East as well as South China seas are not being seen favourably in many countries such as ASEAN, US, Australia and Japan which is giving India an opportunity to look towards countries with a common threat. Amidst this great power struggle between Washington and Beijing, New Delhi is stuck between a rock and hard place i.e., having a clear and strong foreign policy with its neighbours.
In this region, India has a sole threat which is mainly Beijing where the latter has achieved prowess technologically and militarily where New Delhi lags behind the latter twenty fold. So, there is a need for improvising military technology, increase economic activities with countries, reduce dependence on foreign aid, ensure self-reliance.
South Asia is backward when it comes to economic development, human development and is a home to majority of the world’s population which lives below poverty line. The colonial rule has left a never-ending impact on divisions based on communal, linguistic and ethnic grounds. Even, in terms of infrastructure and connectivity, New Delhi lags behind Beijing significantly in the neighbourhood because the latter is at an edge when it comes to bringing countries under the same umbrella. Due to these, many initiatives have been taken up by New Delhi on developing infrastructure, providing humanitarian aid to needy countries.
There have been numerous efforts made by India with respect to reaching out to the Neighbours in 2020 through setting up of the SAARC Covid Fund where many Neighbourhood countries such as Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka gave contributions to ensure cooperation, joint scientific research, sharing information, healthcare kits where the countries contributed USD $ 18 million jointly towards this fund where New Delhi made an initial offer of USD $ 10 million.
New Delhi has even mustered ties with the Association of Southeast Asian countries during the pandemic under its Act East Policy where proper connectivity through the Northeast could be useful in easing movement of goods but currently, the infrastructure in Northeast needs more improvement where issues such as unemployment, poor connectivity are prevalent whereby disconnecting it from rest of the other states. This region could play an important role in linking Bangladesh, Myanmar to New Delhi along with the proposed India-Thailand –Myanmar Trilateral Corridor. Focus has also been laid to develop inland waterways, rail links and pipelines to ease connections between countries, making trade free and more efficient.
India is focussing on developing the Sittwe and Paletwa ports in Myanmar under the Kaladan Development Corridor, at the cost of INR 517.9 Crore in order to provide an alternative e route beneficial for the Northeast for getting shipping access
These above developments and power display by a strong adversary, give good reasons for New Delhi to adopt collective security mechanisms through QUAD, SIMBEX and JIMEX with a common perception of having safe and open waters through abiding to the UNCLOS which China isn’t showing too much interest in, seen through surveillance units, artificial islands being set up on disputed territories which countries likewise India are facing in context to territorial sovereignty and integrity. These developments make it important for India to look at strategic threats by coming together with countries based on similar interest’s vis-à-vis Chinese threat.
There is a need for India to develop and harness its strength through connectivity and its self reliance initiative ( Aatmanirbharta ) so that there is no dependence on any foreign power at times of need . Proper coordination between policy makers and government officials could make decision making even easier, which is not there completely because of ideological differences, different ideas which makes it important for the political leadership to coordinate with the military jointly during times of threats on borders. Self-reliance could only come through preparedness and strategy.
India is in big trouble as UK stands for Kashmiris
A London-based law firm has filed an application with British police seeking the arrest of India’s army chief and a senior Indian government official over their alleged roles in war crimes in Indian-administered Kashmir.
Law firm Stoke White said it submitted extensive evidence to the Metropolitan Police’s War Crimes Unit on Tuesday, documenting how Indian forces headed by General Manoj Mukund Naravane and Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah were responsible for the torture, kidnapping and killing of activists, journalists and civilians – particularly Muslim – in the region.
“There is strong reason to believe that Indian authorities are conducting war crimes and other violence against civilians in Jammu and Kashmir,” the report states, referring to the territory in the Himalayan region.
Based on more than 2,000 testimonies taken between 2020 and 2021, the report also accused eight unnamed senior Indian military officials of direct involvement in war crimes and torture in Kashmir.
The law firm’s investigation suggested that the abuse has worsened during the coronavirus pandemic. It also included details about the arrest of Khurram Parvez, the region’s most prominent rights activist, by India’s counterterrorism authorities last year.
“This report is dedicated to the families who have lost loved ones without a trace, and who experience daily threats when trying to attain justice,” Khalil Dewan, author of the report and head of the SWI unit, said in a statement.
“The time has now come for victims to seek justice through other avenues, via a firmer application of international law.”
The request to London police was made under the principle of “universal jurisdiction”, which gives countries the authority to prosecute individuals accused of crimes against humanity committed anywhere in the world.
The international law firm in London said it believes its application is the first time that legal action has been initiated abroad against Indian authorities over alleged war crimes in Kashmir.
Hakan Camuz, director of international law at Stoke White, said he hoped the report would convince British police to open an investigation and ultimately arrest the officials when they set foot in the UK.
Some of the Indian officials have financial assets and other links to Britain.
“We are asking the UK government to do their duty and investigate and arrest them for what they did based on the evidence we supplied to them. We want them to be held accountable,” Camuz said.
The police application was made on behalf of the family of Pakistani prisoner Zia Mustafa, who, Camuz said, was the victim of extrajudicial killing by Indian authorities in 2021, and on behalf of human rights campaigner Muhammad Ahsan Untoo, who was allegedly tortured before his arrest last week.
Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the past two decades in Kashmir, which is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both in its entirety.
Muslim Kashmiris mostly support rebels who want to unite the region, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.
Kashmiris and international rights groups have long accused Indian troops of carrying out systematic abuse and arrests of those who oppose rule from New Delhi.
Rights groups have also criticized the conduct of armed groups, accusing them of carrying out human rights violations against civilians.
In 2018, the United Nations human rights chief called for an independent international investigation into reports of rights violations in Kashmir, alleging “chronic impunity for violations committed by security forces”.
India’s government has denied the alleged rights violations and maintains such claims are separatist propaganda meant to demonize Indian troops in the region. It seems, India is in big trouble and may not be able to escape this time. A tough time for Modi-led extremist government and his discriminatory policies. The world opinion about India has been changed completely, and it has been realized that there is no longer a democratic and secular India. India has been hijacked by extremist political parties and heading toward further bias policies. Minorities may suffer further, unless the world exert pressure to rectify the deteriorating human rights records in India.
S. Jaishankar’s ‘The India Way’, Is it a new vision of foreign policy?
S. Jaishankar has had an illustrious Foreign Service career holding some of the highest and most prestigious positions such as ambassador to China and the US and as foreign secretary of India. Since 2019 he has served as India’s foreign minister. S. Jaishankar also has a Ph.D. in international relations from JNU and his academic background is reflected in this book.
His main argument is simplistic, yet the issues involved are complex. Jaishankar argues that the world is changing fundamentally, and the international environment is experiencing major shifts in power as well as processes. China is rising and western hegemony is declining. We are moving away from a unipolar system dominated by the US to a multipolar system. Globalization is waning and nationalism and polarization is on the rise (p. 29). The old order is going away but we cannot yet glimpse what the future will look like. This is the uncertain world that Dr. Jaishankar sees.
Dr. Jaishankar also argues that India too has changed, it is more capable and more assertive. The liberalization program that began in 1991 has made the Indian economy vibrant and globally competitive and it is well on track to becoming the third biggest economy in the world, after China and the US. The war of 1971 that liberated Bangladesh, the liberalization of the economy after 1991, the nuclear tests in 1998 and the nuclear understanding with the US in 2005, Jaishankar argues are landmarks in India’s strategic evolution (p. 4). So given that both India and the system have changed, Jaishankar concludes, so should India’s foreign policy.
But his prescription for India’s foreign policy, in the grand scheme of things, is the same as before – India should remain nonaligned and not join the US in its efforts to contain China. India will try to play with both sides it seems in order to exploit the superpowers and maximize its own interests (p. 9). But he fails to highlight how India can find common ground with China other than to say the two nations must resolve things diplomatically. He also seems to think that the US has infinite tolerance for India’s coyness. In his imagination the US will keep making concessions and India will keep playing hard to get.
Jaishankar has a profound contradiction in his thinking. He argues that the future will be determined by what happens between the US and China. In a way he is postulating a bipolar future to global politics. But he then claims that the world is becoming multipolar and this he claims will increase the contests for regional hegemony. The world cannot be both bipolar and multipolar at the same time.
There is also a blind spot in Jaishankar’s book. He is apparently unaware of the rise of Hindu nationalism and the demand for a Hindu state that is agitating and polarizing India’s domestic politics. The systematic marginalization and oppression of Muslim minorities at home and the growing awareness overseas of the dangers of Hindutva extremism do not exist in the world that he lives in. He misses all this even as he goes on to invoke the Mahabharata and argue how Krishna’s wisdom and the not so ethical choices during the war between Pandavas and Kauravas should be a guide for how India deals with this uncertain world – by balancing ethics with realism (p. 63). Methinks his little digression in discussing the ancient Hindu epic is more to signal his ideological predilections than to add any insights to understanding the world or India’s place in it.
One aspect of his work that I found interesting is his awareness of the importance of democracy and pluralism. He states that India’s democracy garners respect and gives India a greater opportunity to be liked and admired by other nations in the world (p. 8). Yet recently when he was asked about the decline of India’s democratic credentials, his response was very defensive, and he showed visible signs of irritation. It is possible that he realizes India is losing ground internationally but is unwilling to acknowledge that his political party is responsible for the deterioration of India’s democracy.
This is also apparent when he talks about the importance of India improving its relations with its immediate neighbors. He calls the strategy as neighborhood first approach (pp. 9-10). What he does not explain is how an Islamophobic India will maintain good relations with Muslim majority neighbors like Bangladesh, Maldives, and Pakistan.
The book is interesting, it has its limitations and both, what is addressed and what is left out, are clearly political choices and provide insights into how New Delhi thinks about foreign policy. So, coming to the question with which we started, does India have a new foreign policy vision? The answer is no. Dr. Jaishankar is right, there is indeed an India way, but it is the same old way, and it entails remaining nonaligned with some minor attitudinal adjustments.
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