View from Russia: Reluctant India essential part of a new world order

Strengthening the Moscow-New Delhi-Beijing triangle is an urgent necessity today. Source: Getty images

Strengthening the Moscow-New Delhi-Beijing triangle is an urgent necessity today. Source: Getty images

Any discussion of a multi-polar world replacing the US/Western dominance is certain to mention India as one of its new poles.

A rapidly developing nation of 1.2 billion, possessing nuclear weapons, perceiving itself as a bearer of a distinct social and political philosophy, and located at the junction of several strategically important global regions cannot be viewed as anything but an essential cog in a new world order. More importantly, India is an established democracy, making it, unlike some other aspiring countries of the former Third World, a welcome partner for the West.

That said, some other characteristics besides the objective parameters must be taken into account, such as a psychological willingness to play an active role in global affairs. At this point, the situation becomes more complicated.

First of all, India is a country of such a complex composition, burdened with such a plethora of social problems, that at any level of economic development the lion’s share of its energy will be spent on maintaining its internal equilibrium. Moreover, India’s “world’s largest” (in terms of sheer population count) democracy has rather specific roots. It is applied rather than ideology-based. Such a diverse country can only exist in the most pluralistic way possible, because any attempt to centralise it would most likely end in failure.

In terms of foreign-policy identity, India has long been a nation in transition. New Delhi’s traditional role as the hub of the non-aligned Third World, conducting its policy beyond the scope of the East-West blocks, became a thing of the past along with the Cold War. The economic deregulation of the 1990s brought the country a long way from its former semi-socialist economic model, with a middle class expanding thanks to the hi-tech sectors becoming a token of its westernisation. This impression is only strengthened by the large numbers of Indian expatriates active in the intellectual sphere in the United States, as well as by Washington’s active efforts to pull New Delhi into its orbit.

Since China is the main source of India’s security concerns (apart from Pakistan, which could hardly be characterised as a foreign policy issue for historical reasons), and those concerns tend to become something akin to outright obsession for the Indian military, the course towards rapprochement with Washington seems only natural.

Yet that is where another feature of India’s political psychology comes into play: its great sensitivity when it comes to the idea of independence.

India is one of the few nations that enjoy complete sovereignty; specifically, it does not belong to any alliance that would limit its freedom of action and it possesses sufficient economic clout to pursue an independent policy. A combination of those two factors is exceedingly rare; perhaps there are no other nations like that except the United States and the BRICS countries. This perception is superimposed upon the Nehru-Gandhi tradition and independence is primarily viewed as independence from the United States. This approach is felt very strongly in the foreign policy sphere, particularly at the level of experts, despite the above-mentioned economic “westernisation”.

One more particular characteristic is worth mentioning. On the one hand, India does not suffer from any inferiority complex and its military and political class holds itself in very high regard.

On the other hand, while the entire world expects India’s global role to increase and Indian politicians are eager to talk about this, particularly in terms of “South to South” (i.e., within the developing world) interaction, they do not quite dare pursue a really proactive policy. New Delhi is taking evasive positions on virtually every acute international issue (except the above-mentioned fears over its own security), hiding behind general statements. In some cases, this is effective, as it allows India not to spoil relations with anyone but it contrasts with both the external expectations of India and its heightened self-esteem - especially since New Delhi dreams of a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, a status that comes with the need to make clearer and more definitive statements.

Russian-Indian relations are going through a strange phase. After dipping in the 1990s, when great damage was done to the traditionally very close ties, the situation has started recovering. But India today is a discerning bride desired by all; the most respected countries and prestigious companies are vying for a spot on India’s market. For this reason, the country is increasingly exigent in the field of military and technical cooperation – a sphere traditionally considered Russia’s domain.

Moscow still enjoys certain advantages in the competition for India. Indians in general harbour a kind attitude towards Russia, remembering a long history of support. Russia and India have nothing to quarrel about: their ties are long-standing and conflict-free. Russia’s image as a country that will not, under any circumstances, pursue a pro-American policy might also help, given New Delhi’s above-mentioned painstaking focus on independence. Perhaps Russia’s deepening ties with China, of which India is both jealous and suspicious, could be the only challenge to the relations.

Thus, strengthening the Moscow-New Delhi-Beijing triangle, once proposed by Evgeny Primakov, is an urgent necessity today, rather than a theoretical construct.

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