Since the start of Russia’s war on Ukraine and India’s refusal to toe the line laid down by the United States and its NATO allies in Europe, there has been much talk of New Delhi’s neutral stand and abstention at every vote against Moscow at the United Nations.
This has led to widespread criticism of India in the West with several analysts questioning India’s silence in the wake of unabashed Russian aggression against Ukraine, a smaller sovereign nation.
Meanwhile, India, considering its security and strategic interests, has remained adamant. Russia continues to be India’s major defence supplier, though there has been some amount of diversification in the last 20 years.
New Delhi is in no mood to jeopardise its traditional ties with Moscow to please Washington. Despite massive pressure from the US and its European friends and allies like Japan and Australia, New Delhi has refused to bend. The government has allowed foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar to do most of the talking instead of allowing all the Bharatiya Janata Party blabbermouths to weigh in on television debates.
The foreign minister has not been apologetic about India’s abstention at the UN and has articulated his government’s views clearly both at home and abroad. The ongoing Raisina Dialogue has been used by Jaishankar to drive home India’s stand on the current crisis in Europe.
The standard lines are that India wants an end to the fighting and matters to be resolved through talks. Jaishankar has pointed out that New Delhi has reached out to the people of Ukraine by sending much-needed medical aid. But what the West wants is a statement condemning Russia, which New Delhi refuses to do.
Evaluating India’s foreign policy as the country celebrates 75 years of independence, the minister said at Wednesday’s panel discussion at the Raisina Dialogue: ''We have to be confident about who we are. I think it's better to engage with the world on the basis of who we are rather than try and please the world by being a pale imitation of what they are."
Jaishankar went on to lecture the West in a role-reversal as the West never fails to lecture the rest of the world.
He said, "The idea that others define us, that you know somewhere we need to get approval from other quarters, I think, that's an era we need to put behind.''
This is the New India looking after its national interest and no longer willing to be diffident about it.
In the past too, New Delhi has often taken a stand against the US and the West. But that was at a time of the Cold War divide when India was more inclined toward the Soviet Union. Today India has excellent ties with the US and in normal circumstances would have put its head down and hoped that the crisis would blow over. The difference now is that a self-confident India is not afraid to articulate its stand publicly.
Like other panellists, including Canada’s former prime minister Stephen Harper, Jaishankar also spoke of India’s contribution to democracy.
He said, “There was a time when in this part of the world, we were the only democracy. If democracy is global today or we see it global today, in some measure, the credit is due to India."
On Monday, Jaishankar was asked several questions by European foreign ministers attending the conference. They spoke of Russia disrupting the rules-based order and said the repercussions of the war in Europe would be felt in Asia.
While acknowledging that Europe was naturally concerned about the war at home, Jaishankar said, “I am very glad that you are sitting in India because it would remind you that there are equally pressing issues in other parts of the world.”
Jaishankar also claimed that when there had been friction with other countries in the region that threatened the rules-based order in Asia, the Europeans had a different counsel.
He said, “If I were to put those very challenges in terms of principle when rules-based order was challenged in Asia, the advice we got from Europe was ‘do more trade’. At least we are not giving you that advice.”
The message from India was loud and clear.