India rejects hectoring, bullying, and threats of sanctions, and, as a mature democracy it will do what is in its own best interest, just as the US and the rest of the world do
Over the last few weeks, the United States, a strong ally of India — and a robust partner in the knowledge economy, space cooperation, higher education, collective defence capabilities, cultural property protection, and maritime domain awareness — has seen fit to sermonize India, over and over again, about what’s optimal for it, apropos of Russia, notwithstanding being repeatedly and subtly told to desist by India’s polite and able External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar.
The US has expected India to censure Russia, notably at the United Nations, but India has not. India has not voted for Russia either: it has abstained, together with China, and a few other countries. India has strongly condemned the Bucha massacre at the UN. The US has not asked China to sanction Russia: it cannot.
For the record: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Jaishankar, in frequent conversations with their Russian counterparts, have repeatedly told Russia to eschew violence in Ukraine. As well, Modi has urged President Vladimir Putin and President Volodymyr Zelensky to talk to one another. India has also consistently sent the Ukraine humanitarian aid. The media — both national and international — for some bizarre reason, chooses not to notice these dialogues or India’s aid to Ukraine. As a senior career diplomat mentions in a recent article: if past precedent is an indicator, India will likely have privately articulated its displeasure to Russia.
What is mostly unacceptable for the US is India’s buying of Russian gas. Gas, by the way, is exempt from sanctions. India imports a scant less than 1 per cent of its gas from Russia, per India’s Union Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas Hardeep Singh Puri. India’s oil imports from the US will rise by 11 per cent this year, per officials from India’s Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas. European countries import several times as much worth of Russian gas, and have been, after the start if the war, but, inexplicably, the Europeans escape US pontificating, and scrutiny, or the threat of sanctions. The US is in a state about India’s recent intent to purchase a few million barrels of oil from Russia at a discounted price. Astonishingly, the US has itself ratcheted up its import of Russian oil by 43 per cent since the start of Ukraine, and now imports 100,000 barrels per day, per Mikhail Popov, Deputy Secretary of the Russian Security Council. But, of course, the US is above scrutiny.
India has, for decades, been a major buyer of Russian arms and ammunition, and depends on cost-competitive supplies from Russia for their refurbishment. Russia is an indispensable ally, for both security and geopolitical reasons. India is flanked by two belligerent and unpredictable neighbours, and, therefore, it cannot afford to be even slightly slack about military preparedness. During the 1971 Bangladesh War of Liberation, for example, when both the US and the UK took Pakistan’s side, and the former, in a patently menacing act, sent its warships to the Bay of Bengal to threaten India, it was the arrival of Russian submarines in the oceans that deterred an escalation of hostilities.
India, somehow, needs to do the US’s bidding, the US thinks, failing which, an assortment of threats and sanctions might follow. In the refined and understated world of diplomacy, rookies who suffer from strident footinthemouthiitis are pure anathema. The US recently dispatched its Deputy National Security Adviser, Daleep Singh, to India, to sermonize from the mount, and that degringolade did not sit well with top-ranked Indian leaders and officials. Singh was rather often in the unwarranted and bellicose rave and rant mode. Singh is also some manner of a fortune teller, or so it would seem, as he stated, with categorical certitude, that Russia would not side with India in the event of a war between China and India. We certainly hope that war never breaks out, but what Russia will do at that time is not known to anyone as yet, save for clairvoyants.
When will the US learn to back off? It constantly meddles in the stuff of other sovereign nations’ internal matters. India has exercised admirable restraint here — an artefact of being a civilization several thousand years old — but some US officials continue to be, well, recalcitrant.
The question India asks is: Do the Americans honour India’s requests on crucial security issues? Have they, for example, ceased dangerously arming our terrorist neighbour, year after year, decade after decade, knowing full well that it carries out cross border terrorism against India with impunity? The very neighbour that was lapping up billions of dollars in US aid, ostensibly to fight terrorism, and hunt down Osama bin Laden, while coolly sheltering him in Abbottabad? Mahesh Jethmalani, a leading attorney and leader, has a recent, appropriate description for this arrant neighbour: «It is not a state with an army but an army with a state.»
There is much I treasure and admire about the US, my home for decades: it is an optimistic, generous, open nation that valorizes quality, intelligence and perseverance, as hardly any other country does, and has afforded millions of gifted Indians the opportunity to succeed in multiple professions in an exceptional manner. Even as I write this piece, yet another Indian has recently been appointed to a prominent position by President Biden. Ashish Jha, from the tiny, rich, art-laden village of Madhubani, in India, now serves as White House COVID-19 response coordinator.
However, the US’ inability to accept the changed dynamics of a multipolar world, with expanding and significant power centres — India being one of them — bereft of American hegemony, is not one of them. It has a modicum of growing up to do in this regard because its overweening sense of entitlement and superiority frequently causes it to be on the wrong side of history.
India rejects hectoring, bullying, and threats of sanctions, and, as a mature democracy — the world’s largest — it will do what is in its own best interest, just as the US and the rest of the world do. It would serve the US well to be humble and take note at this historical juncture, and not jeopardize an invaluable relationship. The forthcoming Modi-Biden dialogue, as well as the 2+2 dialogue between Indian and American leaders in Foreign Affairs and Defence, will hopefully assuage any points of friction and cement the already robust ties between the world’s largest and oldest democracies.
The writer is a Distinguished Fellow at Carnegie Mellon University since 1990, where she was appointed by its President, Dr Richard Cyert. She advises world leaders on public policy, communication and international affairs.