Litmus test for India’s politico-diplomatic acumen : The Tribune India

Join Whatsapp Channel

Litmus test for India’s politico-diplomatic acumen

India is aspiring to be counted among the great powers, but this can’t be realised if its military capability remains dependent on external infusion.

Litmus test for India’s politico-diplomatic acumen

New chapter: A review and reset of the India-Russia relationship are on the anvil. PTI



C Uday Bhaskar

Director, Society for Policy Studies

INDIA has entered 2024 with heady optimism, given the achievements in the first week of January. Aditya-L1 moved into the halo orbit to study the sun, while the Navy conducted a dramatic anti-piracy operation in the north Arabian Sea that enhanced India’s credibility as a prompt security provider in the Indian Ocean Region.

The National Statistical Office released early estimates indicating that the GDP growth rate for 2023-24 would be a healthy 7.3 per cent. On top of that was rare acknowledgement of India’s achievements by Chinese daily Global Times, which in an opinion piece (January 2) praised India’s ‘rapid economic and social development’ and ‘great power strategy’ under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

However, some potentially significant developments in major power relations that unfolded towards the end of last year could impact the global and regional strategic framework. This, in turn, could transmute into complex headwinds that could prove challenging and test some of the broad assumptions about India’s profile and core capabilities to safeguard its strategic interests.

India’s foreign policy orientation was broadly assumed to be one that was drawing the country closer to Washington and that it was slowly distancing itself from Moscow — more so since New Delhi maintained a calibrated neutrality over the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The subtext here is the stark reality that India remains dependent on both Russia and the US for a greater part of its military inventory and this limits Delhi’s ability to exert meaningful strategic autonomy — more so when it has to contend with an assertive China.

However, major power relations went through a nuanced reset towards the end of 2023 and this mini-churn can significantly impact India this year. In November, a much-awaited meeting between US President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping took place on the sidelines of the APEC summit in San Francisco. It appeared that there was a thaw in the relationship between the world’s two largest powers. In the last week of December, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar visited Russia and met his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov. He reaffirmed India’s commitment to the special Delhi-Moscow relationship that goes back to the Cold War decades.

The permutations of relations among India, Russia, China and the US have complex multi-layered qualities and how these three major powers relate to each other will shape India’s profile and orientation in the emerging global strategic landscape.

Among these, the US-China bilateral is clearly the most pivotal. The Biden-Xi summit arrived at the broad consensus that despite their differences, a stable bilateral framework was necessary to anchor the relationship. Both sides agreed to resume military-to-military communication, thereby indicating a thaw in the strained ties. This signal was reassuring in the larger global context, given that the wars in Ukraine and Gaza show no sign of any meaningful resolution in the near future. This consideration and their respective domestic political constraints would have shaped the way the two leaders arrived at a strategic arrangement in their troubled relationship.

A potential US-China military confrontation would have dire consequences and hence the tentative relief that even if there was no breakthrough on any of the contentious issues — Taiwan, for instance — there was no breakdown in the US-China relationship. This is a slender silver lining to an otherwise dark cloud and has relevance for New Delhi.

Given that India is perceived to be a major partner for the US in its larger Indo-Pacific strategy, will this thaw in the US-China ties dilute India’s strategic salience for the US? The possibility exists and more recent developments in the India-US bilateral, including the charges levelled by Washington regarding a plot to kill a US citizen, suggest that there is disquiet in the Biden administration about India’s image and intent and this will act as a dampener.

The US-China rapprochement during the 1970s, when the late Henry Kissinger was the secret emissary for then President Richard Nixon, had led to the consolidation of the India-USSR partnership and this continued after Russia emerged as the inheritor of the Soviet mantle. Russia soon became the principal supplier of military equipment for the Indian armed forces and the political relationship was robust. While there was speculation in 2023 that the Delhi-Moscow relationship had been diluted due to the closer India-US partnership and India’s unease with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Jaishankar visit has dispelled this perception. Interacting with scholars, the foreign minister asserted that “the relationship between India and Russia is not just about politics or diplomacy or economics. It is something much deeper”. It is evident that a review and reset of the India-Russia relationship are on the anvil and this would be studied carefully by both Washington and Beijing.

India is aspiring to become the world’s third largest economy and be counted among the great powers, but this cannot be realised if its military capability remains dependent on external infusion. Managing the bilateral relationship with the US, Russia and China, even as these countries seek to pursue their own core interests, will test India’s politico-diplomatic acumen this year.


Top News

‘Watershed moment for our society’: CJI Chandrachud on enactment of three new criminal justice laws

‘Watershed moment for our society’: CJI Chandrachud hails new criminal justice laws

The new criminal justice laws will come into effect from Jul...

Day after polling, BJP’s Moradabad candidate Kunwar Sarvesh Kumar dies at 72

Day after polling, BJP’s Moradabad candidate Kunwar Sarvesh Kumar dies at 72

Kumar had not been keeping well for some time

US sanctions Chinese suppliers for providing critical components of Pakistan’s ballistic missile programme

US sanctions Chinese suppliers for providing critical components of Pakistan’s ballistic missile programme

As a result of the action, all property and interests in pro...


Cities

View All