Iran urges India to cherish friendship

The telephone call by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday becomes a defining moment. New Delhi chose to keep it under wraps.

Obviously, Tehran views with disquiet the recent hurried visit by the United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to New Delhi. Tehran is acutely aware of the propensity of the policymakers in New Delhi to leverage India’s ties with Iran to extract concessions form Washington within the framework of the US-India strategic partnership.

Alarm bells must be ringing, because the US-India Strategic Dialogue is taking place in Washington shortly and a US special envoy has descended on the Indian capital with a focused mission to erode India’s energy ties with Iran. 

Ahmedinejed’s phone call came on the eve of the announcement of the Indian decision to reduce oil imports from Iran, which has been widely perceived as a sign of the Indian leadership succumbing to the US pressure to fall in line with its containment strategy toward Iran.  

According to the Iranian news agency IRNA, Ahmedinejad stressed to Manmohan Singh that Tehran sets no limits to the broadening of the Iran-India relationship. He called it a “brotherly” relationship, a warm description that Tehran reserves as a mark of special affinity. However, Manmohan Singh, curiously enough, insisted that the bilateral relationship would be “on the basis of national interests.”

The Indian establishment almost instinctively resorts to the epithet “national interests” when it is hard-pressed to explain the raison d’etre of any policy shift. The government’s decision to cut back on oil imports from Iran is, arguably, one such poignant moment. No government would like to acknowledge that it is buckling under pressure from a foreign power and in this case, the Indian public opinion comprehends the importance of the relationship with Iran.

Besides, the ruling Congress party is sensitive to the Muslim opinion, which can swing election results in over a hundred parliamentary constituencies, which, of course, can prove lethal, as elections are due in 2014 – rumors are swirling that there could be a mid-term poll – and Congress party has a fight on its hands to retain hold on power.

The Indian Muslim takes a dim view of the US’ global policies. The Indian pundit may look at Iran as a Shi’ite country, but for the Indian Muslim, Iran signifies strategic defiance of the US. No matter the lavish funding of the Muslim ulema in India by the Gulf Arab monarchies – and the nexus between the ulema and political parties – average Indian Muslim opinion equates Tehran as the voice of justice, honor and resistance.

This is the crux of the Congress-led government’s predicament. It is not very different from the predicament of the Gulf monarchies on the Arab street where Iran’s shadow remains potent, despite their sustained campaign to orchestrate a Sunni-Shi’ite schism in the Muslim Middle East. The IRNA report is here.  

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