Atir Khan/New Delhi
Thanks to Nicolaus Copernicus we know we are not the centre of the universe and we live in a world, which revolves around the Sun. We have seen the world moving on its axis from communiphobia to Islamophobia and now it is moving towards Russophobia. India’s foreign policy has always been aligned to the paradigm that there cannot be permanent friends or foes in geopolitics.
When it comes to the art of staying at the right side of history, India doesn’t need any sermons. Seventy-five years ago,the nation started off with a soft approach, but today it is asserting itself by taking principled stand on highly sensitive international issues.
The other day PM Modi inaugurated a museum, which celebrates the achievements of the former Prime Ministers of India.The museum is located at Teen Murti, which has always been associated with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, and his cherished legacy on diplomatic stands like NAM and Panchsheel.
PM Narendra Modi has only strengthened the principles, which Nehru ji stood for- especially the principle of non-alignment. Ever since India got its Independence it has always stood for non-alignment in a bipolar world.So that it could reach out to safeguard the interest of developing, poor, democratic countries, where issues like poverty alleviation have been a priority rather than becoming the proxy to fight somebody else’s war.
India has adopted a non-alignment policy but it has never been a passive spectator in the world affairs. On the issue of Russia-Ukraine war, PM Modi, as the leader of world’s largest democracy reached out to the waring countries with an appeal to be at peace with each other.
India is one of the few countries which is against any such violence. Historically Indian leaders have categorically stressed upon peaceful resolution of all such issues through dialogue and diplomacy. For a country like India, it is important that such conflicts do not disturb the trade and economic balance. India needs to fight its own issues like starvation, poverty, unemployment and development.
The country has had its own internal problems of ethnicity, religion and economy, which it needs to resolve in due course of time, India needs to take a stand which is based on principles rather than short term gains.
India faces most difficult security disturbances from neighbouring Pakistan, China and Afghanistan. However, in the recent past it has acquired the capability of defining and tackling its own security challenges. And the present Russia-Ukraine scenario cannot be used as a tool to deviate India from its principled stand of non-alignment.
Let’s us analyze actions taken by India through the crisis. India abstained from voting against Russia in the UN resolutions but at the same time it delivered humanitarian assistance including food and medicineto war-torn Ukraine . This is despite the possibility of a backlash from Russia. Given that almost seventy per cent of India’s military hardware is of Russian origin and it has a long legacy of diplomatic, military and energy related ties with Russia, such help from India to Ukraine remains significant.
One should not forget that Russia has supported India on the Kashmir issue at least six times by using its veto powers in the UN. Russia’s support is also crucial from the point of view of the Chinese security related matters. In spite of all these facts India did not hesitate when it came to taking a neutral position.
A big issue faced by India during this crisis is to tackle economic sanctions and embargoes imposed by NATO countries on Russia. This includes sanctions for buying oil and gas. As a close ally US and other member countries expected India to follow these sanctions verbatim. Under these circumstances India is compelled to question why should legitimate energy transactions be politicised?
External Affairs Minister Jaishankar spoke categorically that Indian purchase of Russian oil and gas is paltry as compared to purchases made by the NATO members. One should question why the poor in India should pay for strategic ambitions of superpowers by funding them through high oil prices.
Indian Government has acted in a right manner to work in the direction of energy security for the Indian consumers rather than blindly follow a stand where India is not a party at all. It is important to note that in recent times in spite of its limited resources and a growing population, India has always been magnanimous in extending humanitarian assistance to the world in crisis. Indian aid to Sri Lanka, Nepal and Afghanistan are shining examples of such assistance.
India gave the best possible medical assistance to the world by supplying vaccines, at a time when the Western powers were busy hoarding them during Covid-19 pandemic.
The question is why India, which has always stood for humanitarian causes and non-violence is being compelled to follow a path which will jeopardize its energy security and further escalate the crude oil prices in a limited supply market to such level, which will permanently hurt India’s growth.
Indian Prime Ministers have always understood that geopolitical changes are inevitable. In such a dynamic scenario if India doesn’t take a stand based on its core principles, then the sovereign foreign policy of this country will get compromised. There is a fear that it may align to some superpower and face consequences like Pakistan has.
In Pakistan’s case their foreign policy was first to fight communism because US was fighting against communism. Then to fight Islamic radicals because US was fighting Al Qaeda. It’s for world to see whether it stands today.
One also needs to do a closer analysis of the situation evolving in Eastern Europe and its long history. During World War II and after it, Russia, Poland and Germany had become friends to enemies and then again enemies to friends several times. All based on their convenience rather than any principles.
It should also be remembered that NATO was formed essentially to curb Russian influence, especially in Europe. Now after disintegration of USSR in 1991, NATO should have become irrelevant. However, in the last 30 years it has not only remained intact but had also added as members most of the nations or erstwhile Soviet bloc.
The deployment of NATO forces at the borders of Russia threatens the historical equilibrium in that region. Such actions are provocative in nature and any proposal to add countries like Ukraine in such organisation is a readymade recipe for confrontation with Russia.
One has to remember that a country like Finland having a large boundary with Russia never had any problems with Russia in last seventy years despite fighting several wars before that. Finland ensured their security not by becoming a NATO member but by developing a close and Sovern relations with Russia.
Who can forget the wars by US and its NATO allies in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya? Many of these wars were fought based on an agenda of a single country. False intelligence and propaganda were used to justify these wars whose sole purpose was not to save democracy or help common people. Therefore, it is important for a sovereign country like India to minutely anlayse any such escalation and not fall into a trap of joining a coalition before self-assessment. Or else there is a danger of committing a historical blunder.
The Cold War was fought on communiphobia and a consistent push was made to countries for joining the anti-communist bloc. Then came the era of Islamophobia where it was professed that Islamic radicalism is a cause of all evils and countries like India should follow a path of Islamophobia to fix their own problems.
Now the new Frankenstein is Russophobia where India is being continuously preached that they should chose the right side of the history at this time by taking an anti-Russian stand. Some foreign diplomats even went up to the level of obliquely threatening India to accept this stand. This includes the threat of India-China border conflict, which may escalate in future.
So, the principle of enemy's enemy is a natural friend applies for neighbourhood relations, the same principle cannot be juxtaposed for international diplomacy. We are not here to make new enemies but we simply cannot leave old friends without a perceivable cause. This stand is despite India’s own difficult challenges to fight militancy, energy security and development.
PM Modi and his able team has rapidly enhanced the capability required to defend the country at all fronts,and they are also preparing a roadmap to achieve self-reliance in defence manufacturing. Indians have always shown courage when they have been given a call to attend their national duties.
Back in the 90s India became an ally of the US due to its security challenges arising out of Islamist fundamentalism. Serious challenges were posed when terrorist struck India at will. At that point of time India needed to curb militancy, especially which was exported to India in the form of foreign Islamist militants. However, that policy was against militancy and extremism. India never had an Islamophobic stand and it never allied with the West on Iraq, Syria, Yemen or Libya, in fact it always condemned armed conflicts be it for any reason.
Recently RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat gave a speech in which he said India will follow non-violence but it will also carry a stick. What he perhaps wanted to say is that a country which is dependent on others for strategic issues cannot have a true sovereign stand. And the ability to take a stand comes from position of strength, a fool-proof security, which is now available to India.
India’s dependence on world powers for military hardware and crude has always been considered a chink in its armour to decide its foreign policy. However, in all these times, Indian diplomacy was always based upon non-alignment, non-violence and for the cause of developing democratic world.
A country of 1.3 billion people has to safeguard its strategic and energy security if it has to remain relevant and wish to keep on sticking to its principled stands in the international diplomacy.
All wars are to be condemned but at the same time, provocation for war should also be condemned. Well-being and quality of life of human beings are the top most priority for us and as a country, we understand the humanitarian cost of such wars.
Wars cannot be ended by providing ammunition for more war. International diplomacy should be in a direction of resolution of conflicts with dialogue rather than to humiliate through economic sanctions. As a robust Indian foreign policy goes through a difficult litmus test this time, a more confident India is sure to pass this challenge with flying colours.