Indian Foreign Policy Comes Of Age, And Provokes Ire Of Western Media

by Dr. R.K. Raghavan and Ajay Goyal - Aug 3, 2022 10:17 PM +05:30 IST
Indian Foreign Policy Comes Of Age, And Provokes Ire Of Western MediaEAM S Jaishankar (Pic Via YouTube screengrab)
  • India knows its place in the world and is confident in its present course and future.

Events in Sri Lanka during the past few weeks were on predicted lines. The unabashed family rule actively promoted corruption and abysmal public administration. India had every reason to be worried, especially because of the growing Chinese hold over the island-nation's economy.

But it held its hands from being accused of interference in the internal affairs of a neighbouring nation. It limited itself to giving humanitarian aid to the people there. Here is a case of how nations should learn from past mistakes. By this token alone Prime Minister Modi and his foreign policy establishment should be lauded. It is an index of how Indian management of external relations has come of age.

Prime Minister Modi has demonstrated that India practices what it does not preach - India does not believe in economic sanctions to solve geopolitical disputes. Despite the border dispute, Indian bilateral trade with China has grown 44 per cent in 2021. Imports grew over a record 46 per cent while exports were up 35 per cent.

While India has increased its oil imports at a discount from Russia, Indian foreign policy is not built on opportunism. It is firmly and squarely shaped by long-term Indian interests.

Managing inflation, holding on to foreign currency reserves while continuing fast paced infrastructure development and growth that is easily stumped by high oil prices are the key policy objectives for India and deft management of foreign relations in a broken world is going a long way in achieving these goals.

India actively pursues Western markets, it aims to become a manufacturing hub of the world and welcomes investment from any friendly nation. Russia, despite small trade and commerce, is a more-than-friendly nation to India - it is a privileged strategic partner and no amount of Western pressure is going to change that.

At the same time, Indian relations with the Arab world have achieved a maturity that traditional Western partners such as the UK and the US can only envy. This, while India has built close strategic relations with Israel, while standing its ground with Iran.

Indian refusal to join in the sanctions or vote against Russia from its temporary seat in the Security Council brought calls for “punishment” and sanctions against India itself from some Western quarters. Some Indian commentators went into panic mode too, but the Indian stance was robust.

Some Western diplomats and officials did not show the deference India has earned on the global arena and crossed lines of diplomatic protocol. The White House insisted that Daleep Singh, an Assistant US National Security Advisor of Indian origin who visited India in March, “did not issue any warnings” and then went on to announce: “He conveyed, of course, they should abide by sanctions which are not related to that decision. But also we would be here to help them diversify and move towards even reducing [oil imports from Russia] further beyond the one to two per cent." Singh ruffled some feathers in India – he then went on an "extended leave of absence" from the White House beginning in May 2022.

Former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, a darling of Indian liberal media’s speaking circuit, issued her own warnings to India. She would have also received the memo by now that such posturing and lecturing is no longer tolerated in Modi’s India.

Delhi’s response has been firm that India is on the solid ground of national interest and refuses to participate in the Wests’ sanctions warfare. That’s a point of principle – India does not demand sanctions nor expect any foreign states to help in India’s tensions with China or Pakistan through sanctions.

The bilateral Indian-Russian trade has been almost minuscule compared with the overall international trade of India or Russia. In decades when Russian oligarchs have been investing billions of dollars in the West and have stashed, by some estimates, over a trillion dollars of wealth siphoned off from Russia in Europe, they have made almost no investments in India.

A few high-level public sector projects notwithstanding, Indian trade with Russia is a paltry $13 billion with a trade deficit of $6 billion. Boris Yeltsin destroyed several decades of a strategic partnership with India when he joined Bill Clinton’s sanctions against India in 1993 and canceled an important contract to supply cryogenic rocket engines.

In response to Russians' volte-face at the time, the Indian government and businesses steadily started breaking away from Russia. Russia has had a minuscule share of Indian global exports that reached US $400 billion in 2021 with nearly 20 per cent of it going to the African Union and UAE, the US, UK, European Union.

Japan and Australia are fast emerging as India’s main trading partners. Japanese investments in India are across regions and sectors, thanks to the India-centric policies of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who became one of the most loved foreign leaders in India. The most value-added of Indian IT services have been primarily in demand in the US and UK.

The largest flows of FDI in India are from the UAE, US and UK, while Russian investors nearly completely ignored the potential of Indian market. Now, with Russian capital being seized and sanctioned everywhere in the West, it remains to be seen if it finally recognizes the potential of India or remains detached and distant, continuing to make a beeline for accumulation in tax havens.

Western analyses of Indian over-dependence on Russia is similarly shortsighted and ill informed. In one of the largest defense procurement contracts, India decided to buy its fifth-generation fighter jet from France and not Russia. In a massive push for domestic defense procurement, Modi also decided to order over 100 domestically produced Tejas fighter jets which use a US made General Electric propulsion system. Moving away from Russian heavy-lift helicopters and cargo planes, the Indian Air Force has the world’s second largest fleet of C17 Globemaster heavy lift aircraft. It also has over a dozen Chinook helicopters.

Despite traditional dependence and use of Russian Sukhoi and Migs by the Indian Air Force, the Indian defence ministry had started diversifying away from Russia after its five-year delay in sending refitted aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov to the Indian Navy after numerous cost overruns and corruption scandals.

Two years of pandemic resulted in “self-reliant India'' policy of Modi which sees India as a science, technology and manufacturing hub of the world.

Nothing in Indian foreign policy denotes any form of dependence on any foreign country, least of all Russia. Prime Minister Modi has made the indigenization of defence equipment production a centrepiece of his defence and economic policy. It is amply reflected in Indian foreign policy.

While Russians are participating in a few joint ventures for the production of Kalashnikov assault rifles and Sukhoi 30 aircraft in India, the legacy of 70 years of defence co-operation has slowly been whittled away by a lack of Russian initiative and investment in India. Before the conflict in Ukraine started, it seemed unlikely that the Russian industry could overcome decades of their inertia toward India and take trade and investment in India to a higher level. Now, India is the only growth market of any potential open to them. It is not yet clear whether Russians will think and act strategically toward India as the US, Japan, UAE, Saudi Arabia, UK, France, Israel and Germany have.

In sum, India speaks softly and does not carry a big stick but it knows its place in the world and is very confident in its present course and future. For Western media to project falsehoods for the purpose of imposing a colonial diktat on India, will be worse than a mistake - it will be stupid.

R.K. Raghavan is a former Indian envoy to Cyprus and Ajay Goyal is a security strategist based in Europe.
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