Opinion

New Delhi Introspects

On my return from Geneva, I ran into a Russian diplomat at the airport as we were scrambling to find our boarding gate. We had some time at hand. Hence I grabbed the opportunity to probe the Russian on the war in Ukraine. The obvious reference and the starting point of our conversation was Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s suggestion to the Russian President Vladimir Putin, “it is no time for war; diplomacy and dialogues at the best route to arriving at resolutions to conflicts.” The diplomat’s random and restrained responses are indicative of where Russia’s strategic thinking and whether India should go with it. Time for introspection indeed! South Block appears to be doing so, albeit a bit late, after Modi’s profoundly philosophical chide of Putin.

I began by saying to the Russian, “we are sorry that USSR broke up. We also understand the Russian attempt to reunite the Republic”. Elaborating I said, if Germany could reunite after 50-odd years of division of the country, and if 27 European countries can come together in a Union, why not the erstwhile constitutes of USSR rejoin! But the reunification should be done through dialogues and diplomacy, not by force.

The Union of Soviet Republics fell apart by denial of self-expression, democracy. Gorbachev introduced ‘glasnost’ and ‘perestroika’, of course, without relevant structures which ironically led to the rupture of the Union. It appeared as if the Union was held by force, not consent. “You are using the same tool for reunification. Will it work?”

The second point I referred to was their alliance with China. I said, “you had come close to the West, you are the member of G-7 group, which became G-8 after you joined. India and Russia have been friends. Why do you have to rally behind China, a country that is authoritarian, aggressive and revanchist, when Russia was restructuring to be a part of world of democracies?”

A significant sidebar to our conversation was the news broke to us by an Indian engineer sitting next to us and apparently eavesdropping on our talks. With no attention to any conversational protocols, he asked both of us, “have you heard that Xi Jinping is under house arrest? The Chief of Chinese army is taking over”. We were both startled. The news was indeed trending in social media.

Admittedly, it is practically difficult to extract any authentic news from China because of the authoritarian system prevailing in the country, which disallows freedom of expression causing rumours to spread thick and fast. The secrecy undergirding the system gives rise to rumours and speculations. However, the intelligence agencies and investigating media of the world have jumped in to check the veracity of such news. There are evidences now to suggest that there is stiff opposition to Xi Jinping’s foreign and military policy. There are attempts to change things, strip him off these two powers – foreign and military – before the 20th Congress of Chinese Communist Party.

The opposition to Jinping has sprung from the majority of Chinese concern about the declining economy of the country, the growing tensions with USA and the possible invasion of Taiwan. The Chinese realise that a direct military confrontation with the US will destroy whatever China has built so far with that country’s support. They are also wary of Russians’ fate in Ukraine, Putin is stuck.

The possibility of the coup was supported by one particular incident. That is, on his return from Samarkand Xi Jinping did not attend the dinner, did not make any speech in the meeting of Shanghai Community Cooperation Group. This is unusual as the Group is powerful and is supposed to be the counterpart of NATO. Since that meeting there was no appearance of Xi Jinping at least for ten days, till he did so in Public on Tuesday. Xi Jinping had antagonised millions of his opponents. Out of 96 million CCP members, only ten per cent are with him. His opponents were said to have cornered him at home and have been negotiating. There is military presence in Beijing, which is unusual.

The diplomat defensively said that it may not be possible for us to step back after the Ukraine war. We would not mind if Americans were manoeuvring in a far-off country, say, even a hundred kilometres away. How can we not react when they do so at our doorstep? He added that India is our close friend and hoped that China and India will normalise the relations. In reaction to the rumoured coup, he said optimistically, “the Chinese foreign policy will not change with the change of leadership at home.” The pro-China Russian mood was evident.

If the diplomats’ views are a sample of Russian Administrations strategic thinking, is New Delhi on the right track to win over the Russians and wean them away from the Chinese? Secondly, if the churn in China is taking place, in order to lessen the tensions with USA and normalise their relations with the West, will it also lead to cooling off with India? The second assumption seems improbable and even undesirable for India’s national interest.

India has major territorial dispute with China. Beijing has been in occupation of India’s territory since 1962. New Delhi should reclaim those in time. India’s interest is safeguarded by vivisection of China, at least by liberation of Tibet as an independent country, which it was. New Delhi should portray China as a systemic threat to the world; continue to decouple Russia from China despite her dalliances in SCO and BRICS etc. New Delhi should deepen the divide between China and the West.

So far, New Delhi has been trying to be nice and friendly with both the blocs – USA and its Allies on the one hand, and Russia and China on the other. The strategic shift is now called, ‘from non-alignment to multi-alignment’. This causes loss of confidence and trust among partners. It also compromises India on principles, which are her core strength. That is why perhaps USA has resumed arm supply to Pakistan.

The argument adduced by South Block is that USA is wanting to distance Islamabad from Beijing. But it could also be that USA is telling New Delhi, if you do not make up your mind vis-à-vis China and Russia we will arm Pakistan. Further, if and when UNSC is restructured, will India get the permanent seat! Will it not be questioned for its ambiguously neutral position on Ukraine? UN stands for principles whether they are actualised on the ground or not.

The EAM Jaishankar’s speech at UNGA which was said to be a bold statement seemed actually rhetorical as there is no point saying, “on Ukraine, we are on the side of peace and sovereignty of a country, dialogue and diplomacy etc”. Will such words wash when there is bloodshed every day, mass graves are being dug, a country has been invaded? Even smaller countries of the world are publically naming Russia as an aggressor. If New Delhi is not naming Russia, the leadership should, with all the diplomatic and political capital at its command, broker a peace agreement between Russia and Ukraine, and bring this war to an end. At this stage, mere statements will not work. It is time to take steps in either direction.

 

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About the author

Dr. D.K. Giri

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