India will have to play its cards well. Democracy is its strength, and at times it stands different and way ahead of both Russia and China. In all these, there is a need for tightrope walking. The Modi government is doing that well so far.
New Delhi: In the contemporary world, without a doubt, three countries do matter – Russia, India and China. India is the world's largest democracy and has been a steadfast friend of the United States in two decades. Two others are authoritarian regimes, but Russia has been a trusted friend of India and a major defence supplier and strategic partner.
Russia has acted now on the Ukraine front. There are a few important questions that need to be answered and analysed.
The latest developments suggest the US and the West are getting 'weakened' by the day. China and Russia as two countries – separately and at times as strategic partners – will demonstrate great power status on the world stage. This would appear as a counterbalance to the dominance of the US. But there are other geopolitical issues as well.
There is still an apprehension in Beijing that the Russian military adventurism could damage China economically to some extent. However, China also views the Ukraine situation as a timely distraction that will draw the US from the Indo-Pacific region.
All these years, India has cultivated itself as a key strategic partner of the Americans in more ways than one. From the Indo-Pacific to the groundbreaking Nuke deal, both have remained as friends.
Even after the Ukraine attack by the Russian army, US President Joe Biden said he wants India to play a crucial role in defusing the crisis.
India's relations with the US surged, encompassing trade and investment. Of course, the burgeoning defence relationship with the US met India's objective of diversifying military acquisitions away from a near-total dependence on Russia.
In the meantime, China has emerged as a challenger to the global pre-eminence of the US.
Former US Secretary of State and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice had written in her book elaborating how the Americans valued friendship and strategic partnership with a 'democratic India' in Asia.
Despite being communist regimes, China and Russia have their own issues. History does serve as a good lesson for the Chinese Communist party: Nikita Khrushchev withdrew all assistance to support China's nascent industrial development because Beijing refused to become a junior partner of Moscow in political and military terms in the 1950s. The Sino-Soviet split of the 1950s and 60s took place in a very different world, but its spectre remains alive – says an article in 'The Guardian'.
But Russia-India-China engagement has a global significance. India is in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which is driven by Russia and China. The presence of Pakistan and Central Asian countries makes SCO a vital international platform.
Iran, which had an Observer status, formally was admitted into the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) on Sept 17, 2021, at Dushanbe in Tajikistan. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was among the first who greeted Tehran's full membership, a fact widely acknowledged in the Iranian media as well. The full SCO membership in the pattern given to India and Pakistan in 2017 would henceforth give Iran the key opportunity to take a major step in regional cooperation.
There used to be a debate earlier on growing Chinese influence. Until a few years ago, Russia handled the politico-security issues in the region, and China exerted economic prowess. But things were changing as Beijing became more assertive. But now Putin's 'Ukraine adventurism' has got it back as a commanding force at the military stage. Putin has made use of its strength – the military prowess.
Likewise, India will now have to play its cards well. Democracy is its strength, and at times it stands different and way ahead of both Russia and China. In all these, there is a need for tightrope walking. The Modi government is doing that well so far.
China has issues with Americans. For Putin, his antagonism with the US is far more fundamental. He holds the US responsible for the fall of the Soviet Union and perhaps forgets that there were so-called 'autonomous tendencies' of various Soviet republics.
But India cannot ignore the US, and neither can the Americans. Hence, from Donald Trump and Antony Blinken (Secretary of State under Joe Biden), no American leader would also antagonise India.
In July 2021, Biden's Secretary of State, Blinken, said in Delhi – "The most remarkable democratic election in the world, in many ways, is here in India …..Americans admire Indians' commitment to rights, democracy and pluralism. Indian democracy is powered by its free-thinking citizens."
Of course, the BJP leaders and the Indian government could not have it better! The much-planned propaganda against Prime Minister Narendra Modi had fallen flat. But it was also a moment of triumph for Indo-US friendship.