Officially, India, the founder of the non-aligned movement, has not wandered off the path. It has never seeked any alliance with any country, no matter how powerful it might be. Though hoping that it will never lean towards any, is purely wishful thinking. In the past too, particularly during the cold war, India had a definitive friend in Soviet Union. Ever since the independence, there have been many incidences where an outside party was involved in the matters at home. In today’s increasingly multipolar world, no country can operate in isolation. Cooperation and alliances are important. Economic dependence is too large to be ignored. In this article we look at India and its past, present and future relations with the ‘Big Three’ vis a vis Russia, USA and China, and how its influence.
While USSR included many states, it was basically a Russian-controlled Union. If one were to highlight a key moment in the India-USSR relations, it would be the signing of 1971 Indo-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation, which allowed, among other things, the participants to help preserve each other’s interests and security. This was instrumental in countering US and China-backed Pakistan in the 1971 war. During the cold war, the US had disappointed India when asked for military aid. India, in turn, turned to the other superpower and thus began a long strategic and military cooperation that exists till date. After the USSR was dissolved, Russia and India, though not as close as before, continued the cooperation at a bilateral as well as global stage.
If we look at the present day scenario, ie, in the 21st century, Indo-Russian ties continue to evolve based on mutual needs and trust. Russia, finding itself more and more isolated in the present day, looks to hold on to whatever relationships it has, particularly in Asia. For the majority of the last 15 years, Russia was India’s number one military supplier. Despite being eclipsed by the US, it still continues to cooperate with India on more sophisticated programmes like the BrahMos missile. On the political front, it continues to back India in the UN and also backed its entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group. India, on its side, denounced the sanctions against Russia which were imposed in response to the latter’s annexation of Crimea.
India may have historic ties with Russia, but as it continues on its path to become a major player on the global stage, Russia’s role in India’s foreign policy may be eclipsed by the other big players. The first obstacle is a fundamental one. Russia is not a democracy. Its relations with India were rooted in common interest. India does not want to depend on any country in the future and if the current situation is anything to go by, it may actually look towards the West to find a solution to its problems. What may happen is, India and Russia will continue to have a somewhat diminished partnership in areas of mutual interest.
US could have been our natural partner, a similar democracy. But as the conditions proved, the two biggest democracies in the world often found each other on the opposite ends. It perhaps started with the US’s closeness with Pakistan, reaching a new high during the Nixon administration. Pakistan had become an official ally of the US. India, meanwhile, inched closer to the USSR, further casting doubts into the minds of the Americans that Soviets may use India as a base for expansion. When India conducted nuclear tests, it alarmed the West as well as Pakistan. It gave birth to the Non-Proliferation Treaty that has become a thorn in India’s entry into the NSG. The best that could be said of the past is that is has passed.
At the turn of the 21st century, the US realised the threat of terrorism in the aftermath of 9/11 attacks. India had been saying it for years that terrorism needs to be recognised globally but it was this event that drastically changed everyone’s attitude towards it. This was one of the major reasons that brought together US and India, as the US slowly realised Pakistan’s two-faced policies. The 2008 nuclear deal was a landmark in the Indo-US relations as US began to realise India’s strategic importance and a rising nuclear power. The other major factor is China’s rise. China has grown in its assertiveness, making all the regional powers wary of future conflicts. India, too is watching China cautiously, all the while inching closer to US as it too does not want China to become a superpower.
Future seems good for Indo-US relations as despite disagreeing on a number of issues, the relations continue to improve and prosper, with India realising that it may need US more that it will need Russia in future, US, for its part, will want a stable democracy as its de facto ally in Asia to keep a check on China as well as tap into India’s economic potential. While the chance of any alliance is low, we may see significant increase in cooperation between the two countries in the upcoming future.
Indo-China equation is perhaps the trickiest of all. What began as a coordial relationship post independence quickly dissolved into mutual suspicion, especially owing to Nehru’s stand against the ‘communist’ China. China quickly tapped into India’s ignorance by gaining swift victory in the 1962 war, which many see as Nehru’s biggest blunder. It did not help that Pakistan was a close ally of China. After the 1962 war, China and India largely stayed out of each other’s way as they focussed on their respective economies and building the nation. All the while though, they kept a wary eye on each other.
After the past bitterness, economic relations were on the rise during the UPA regime as well. Even Modi brought in huge investments worth billions of dollars from the Chinese companies, as he understood the economic importance of Sino-Indian relations. One issue that has began to threaten the relation is the Chinese expansionism. The South China dispute, while not concerning India, does indicate plans of Chinese aggressions in the future. It has also started making forays into the Indian Ocean, which does not please India. So far though, the two governments have stayed away from confrontations even as the two medias bitterly battle over the internet.
India’s economy is booming. It has the highest growth in the world. China already has a great, though slowly declining, economy. It does not take a genius to work out the benefits both countries would enjoy through a successful partnership. What remains to be seen is how the strategic confrontations on a global (like NSG) and bilateral (border issue) will affect the two countries. It is in both of their interest to have a peaceful and steady relationship but the politics is hardly played that way. If the dynamics of power shift towards any one of them, a conflict is likely to be born out of it.
India's future, as far as its economy goes, looks bright. However, on the political and strategic front, it would not be foolish to say that someday a conflict between the major powers will arise. It will be interesting to see how the big players tackle the issues and how India makes its mark on the global front.
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