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India stands firm, sends a message to the world The Statesman 19 Apr 2022
The recent 2+2 dialogue in Washington followed by multiple interactions of the Foreign Minister, S Jaishankar, showcased the arrival of a confident India on a multipolar global stage. Since the commencement of the Russo-Ukraine crisis, India has adopted a neutral line, seeking an end to hostilities and insisting that dialogue is the only solution. It deplored the Bucha killings, demanded an independent probe and refused to blame Russia. The world criticized Russia, while India maintained silence.
India has steadfastly stuck to its national interests and historical belief of neutrality. PM Modi commented, ‘today, the world has witnessed the emergence of such an India, which stands firm to safeguard its interests without any fear or pressure.’ Nations attempted to push India to change its stance, but India refused. The US sought to bully India by sending a flurry of officials, prior to the 2+2 dialogue, only to be politely returned with a negative response.
The conveying of India’s independent foreign policy, ability to counter US bullying and give it back in the same coin was done by none other than S Jaishankar and that too on their home turf. In response to a question on procurement of Russian oil by a journalist in a press conference, Jaishankar stated, ‘I would suggest that your attention should be focused on Europe, which probably – we do buy some energy which is necessary for our energy security, but I suspect looking at the figures, probably our total purchases for the month would be less than what Europe does in an afternoon.’ It closed India’s oil procurement from the discussion table. The US accepted that Indian procurement of oil from Russia would continue.
India had always been threatened by CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act), a unilateral decision by the US congress, on its procurement of the S 400 missile systems from Russia as also other arms deals. Under this act, nations procuring military equipment from Russia could be sanctioned. India had been warned on it. When questioned on this by journalists, Jaishankar retorted ‘it is their law, and they have to decide on it.’ Jaishankar implied that no nation can dictate to India what it must do for its own security or from whom it should procure. India is aware that sanctioning it would hurt the US more than it would impact India.
During the joint press conference US secretary of state, Anthony Blinken, was questioned on Indian human rights. He stated that Washington was ‘monitoring some recent concerning developments including a rise in human rights abuses by some government, police, and prison officials.’ It was ignored for the moment by Indian officials present. Possibly, Jaishankar did not intend to embarrass his host.
A day later addressing a press conference at the Indian embassy, Jaishankar stated, ‘I would tell you that we also take our views on other people’s human rights situation, including that of the United States. We take up a human rights issue when they arise in this country, especially when they pertain to our community.’ He was referring to the attack on two Sikhs in New York a day earlier. There are few countries which have shown a mirror as bluntly as India to the US, that too on their soil.
India has announced that it cannot be pushed. Jaishankar conveyed the message that a strategic partnership is a two-way street and lectures on democracy, human rights and freedom are unwelcome by India. India-US relations are vastly different than US-China or US-Russia. India is an ally, not a competitor. As an equal partner in major forums and global bodies, India demands to be treated as such. Its current power and ability to influence global events earns it that right.
Jaishankar sent a final message in his joint press interaction alongside Blinken, ‘we watch what’s happening in the world, like any country does, and we draw our conclusions and make our assessments. We have a decent sense of what is in our interest and know how to protect it and advance it.’ In a multi-polar world, India has earned its rightful place and should be accorded that respect. Like all nations, India places its own national interests foremost.
India was the only country which enforced a ceasefire in Ukraine to enable evacuation of its citizens. Indian students were escorted by Ukrainian troops through a corridor established by Russia. This was no mean feat. It flowed from multiple conversations between PM Modi and his counterparts in Ukraine and Russia. Currently India would be providing the globe with grains as supplies from Ukraine and Russia are no longer available. India has established its stature in a multi-polar world.
US and Europe blamed India for not criticizing Russia. They believe that in case India does so, it could be blackmailed for provision of spares by Russia. This is only partially true. Neutrality has historically been the Indian approach, while China adopts a shifting sands strategy or exploiting situations for its benefit. In case global pressure builds on China, it may dump Russia. It currently refuses to term Russian action in Ukraine as an invasion.
India was neutral during the US invasion of Iraq, Russian invasion of Afghanistan, US and NATO’s ill-conceived bombings of Libya or Yugoslavia or even the Russian takeover of Crimea. While the world criticized the US for its hasty retreat from Afghanistan, India maintained silence, despite having invested over USD 3 Billion in Afghanistan. When its own allies accused the US of going back on the Iran nuclear deal, India maintained distance and adhered to demands of reducing its oil dependency on Iran.
With Biden and European leaders continuing their warmongering and supplying weapons to Ukraine, there is a requirement for nations, with global outreach, talking of sanity and peace. Russia will never be subdued by sanctions, nor will it relent till its demands are met. The west has no intention of joining the war. Ultimately, while they watch Ukrainians lose life and the nation gets battered. India, as a major influencer in a multi-polar world, must move to promote peace and dialogue.