Boris Johnson has arrived in India to persuade its leader to support Western action against Russia. Although the trip offered Johnson a strategic diversion and respite from the unsavory “Partygate” headlines domestically, the trip to India would not be a success. For the two leaders, this is a post-Brexit public relations exercise, a pretext for a photo shoot.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is much more aligned economically, financially and militarily with Russian President Putin than is generally believed in the West. India is not walking a diplomatic tightrope, but rather trying to give Western heads of state the false impression of maintaining warm ties with Putin. In fact, India was one of the first countries to openly flout Western sanctions by buying Russian oil in bulk at a bargain price, even as Beijing resisted.
As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine rages on, New Delhi is increasingly under the critical microscope of Western pressure to condemn Moscow’s invasion. India has avoided UN resolutions condemning Russia, its historic partner and main arms supplier, and has not imposed sanctions on Russia. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s trip to New Delhi was preceded by frantic visits by Western delegations led by US Deputy National Security Adviser Daleep Singh and British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who attempted a charm offensive to persuade India to act harder against Russia, but to no avail. In a post-Brexit environment, Boris Johnson’s trip may promote defense pacts and free trade agreements, but not much more. India has also signed free trade agreements with Australia and the United Arab Emirates.
It comes as the United States is mounting pressure on Chinese and Indian companies serving Russian civil aviation carrier, Aeroflot, threatening to sanction firms that provide service to Russian airlines flying to Beijing, Delhi and others. destinations.
For decades, India was the biggest importer of Russian military equipment. An estimated $36 billion of the $54 billion New Delhi has spent on arms imports over the past two decades has gone to Russia. Only about $4 billion was spent on US military equipment and a similar amount from Israel. No less than 85% of India’s key weapons systems are of Russian origin. All of this makes India dependent on Putin for spares, after-sales, maintenance and upgrades – a nuclear irresponsible India, as evidenced by the unprovoked and reckless launch of the supersonic high-capacity missile. nuclear Brahmos in the heart of Pakistan, Mian Channu.
New Delhi sought to diversify by acquiring more sophisticated and modern American weapons and defense technology, but was hampered by sanctions imposed by Clinton in 1998 after testing several nuclear weapons. Delhi had no choice but to woo Moscow for Russian military technology. Amid the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, India received the Russian S-400 Triumf air defense missile system from Moscow without US sanctions against America’s adversaries through the Sanctions Act (CAATSA). The Russian tilt is essential to India’s strategic security.
Another major reason why India needs support from the West is due to the ongoing border skirmishes between India and China on the rooftops of the Himalayas, where the Chinese People’s Liberation Army has dealt blows to India many times. This makes India ideal for a security partnership with America, Britain, Japan and Australia – all of which seek to contain China – but the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (the Quad) is tasked with its own internal contradictions often foiled by AUKUS, a new defense formation. Staying in a close embrace with Putin makes Russia and India increasingly dependent and at the mercy of a more powerful China.
Therefore, the defense of India courting Russia is not as clear cut as many Western and Indian experts think. Modi’s alliance with Putin is ideologically deeper than a transactional marriage of convenience. It is also an ideological and cultural marriage. Historically, India’s non-aligned movement during the Cold War and its strategic neutrality and autonomy have brought Moscow and Delhi very close. It is essential to bear in mind that before becoming prime minister, Modi was banned from entering Britain and America. In 2002, he was widely blamed for deliberately allowing Hindutva extremists to carry out anti-Muslim pogroms in Gujarat state, where he was then chief minister. Washington and London hoped Modi would not rise to power. Modi’s heavy chip on his shoulder won’t allow him to forget that.
Modi’s hyper-nationalist ruling party, the BJP, seeks to establish a state where Hindus are superior. Gradually, they are tearing India’s multicultural, multi-faith democracy to shreds, into an autocratic state. Christian, Muslim and Sikh minorities have been alienated and marginalized since Modi took the reins of power. Christians and Muslims in India have suffered particularly from hate crimes and a series of attacks on the practice of their faith. Hindutva nationalist tensions have seeped across borders, stoking ethno-religious nationalist interfaith tensions in Britain, New Zealand, America and the wider West.
Modi and Putin share a worldview that transcends much more than military ties. They both seek to establish nations that dismissively shun diversity and democracy in favor of an authoritarian ethno-state. They seek to prioritize their own people, Caucasian Russians and upper caste Hindus. Putin and Modi resent America and Britain for raising human rights concerns.
The far-right nationalist Hindutva is much closer ideologically to Putin’s worldview than that of the Democrats in the United States. While Modi gloated about campaigning for and with Donald Trump, he did not have the same relationship with Biden, for the same reasons.
If it seems strange to you that the far right has alliances with brown people, it shouldn’t be. Hindutva extremists have long admired Hitler, and more recently the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh openly declares its neo-Nazi leanings and affiliations. Both Modi and Putin believe that states should be allowed to run their own affairs as they see fit, including the persecution, oppression and subjugation of minorities, if necessary.
If the West seeks to stifle Putin’s war chest, it must do more than simply plead for India’s support. Hawks argue they need to threaten Modi with sanctions and show resilient resolve. It is the only language Modi understands.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 29and2022.
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