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    India’s Foreign Minister Schools Western Journalist

    The Fair Observer website uses digital cookies so it can collect statistics on how many visitors come to the site, what content is viewed and for how long, and the general location of the computer network of the visitor. These statistics are collected and processed using the Google Analytics service. Fair Observer uses these aggregate statistics from website visits to help improve the content of the website and to provide regular reports to our current and future donors and funding organizations. The type of digital cookie information collected during your visit and any derived data cannot be used or combined with other information to personally identify you. Fair Observer does not use personal data collected from its website for advertising purposes or to market to you.As a convenience to you, Fair Observer provides buttons that link to popular social media sites, called social sharing buttons, to help you share Fair Observer content and your comments and opinions about it on these social media sites. These social sharing buttons are provided by and are part of these social media sites. They may collect and use personal data as described in their respective policies. Fair Observer does not receive personal data from your use of these social sharing buttons. It is not necessary that you use these buttons to read Fair Observer content or to share on social media. More

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    Tibetan Activist and Writer Tenzin Tsundue Talks to Fair Observer

    The Fair Observer website uses digital cookies so it can collect statistics on how many visitors come to the site, what content is viewed and for how long, and the general location of the computer network of the visitor. These statistics are collected and processed using the Google Analytics service. Fair Observer uses these aggregate statistics from website visits to help improve the content of the website and to provide regular reports to our current and future donors and funding organizations. The type of digital cookie information collected during your visit and any derived data cannot be used or combined with other information to personally identify you. Fair Observer does not use personal data collected from its website for advertising purposes or to market to you.As a convenience to you, Fair Observer provides buttons that link to popular social media sites, called social sharing buttons, to help you share Fair Observer content and your comments and opinions about it on these social media sites. These social sharing buttons are provided by and are part of these social media sites. They may collect and use personal data as described in their respective policies. Fair Observer does not receive personal data from your use of these social sharing buttons. It is not necessary that you use these buttons to read Fair Observer content or to share on social media. More

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    India Looks to Finland for an Effective Educational Model

    The Fair Observer website uses digital cookies so it can collect statistics on how many visitors come to the site, what content is viewed and for how long, and the general location of the computer network of the visitor. These statistics are collected and processed using the Google Analytics service. Fair Observer uses these aggregate statistics from website visits to help improve the content of the website and to provide regular reports to our current and future donors and funding organizations. The type of digital cookie information collected during your visit and any derived data cannot be used or combined with other information to personally identify you. Fair Observer does not use personal data collected from its website for advertising purposes or to market to you.As a convenience to you, Fair Observer provides buttons that link to popular social media sites, called social sharing buttons, to help you share Fair Observer content and your comments and opinions about it on these social media sites. These social sharing buttons are provided by and are part of these social media sites. They may collect and use personal data as described in their respective policies. Fair Observer does not receive personal data from your use of these social sharing buttons. It is not necessary that you use these buttons to read Fair Observer content or to share on social media. More

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    India Must Contain Afghanistan-Pakistan to Survive

    The Fair Observer website uses digital cookies so it can collect statistics on how many visitors come to the site, what content is viewed and for how long, and the general location of the computer network of the visitor. These statistics are collected and processed using the Google Analytics service. Fair Observer uses these aggregate statistics from website visits to help improve the content of the website and to provide regular reports to our current and future donors and funding organizations. The type of digital cookie information collected during your visit and any derived data cannot be used or combined with other information to personally identify you. Fair Observer does not use personal data collected from its website for advertising purposes or to market to you.As a convenience to you, Fair Observer provides buttons that link to popular social media sites, called social sharing buttons, to help you share Fair Observer content and your comments and opinions about it on these social media sites. These social sharing buttons are provided by and are part of these social media sites. They may collect and use personal data as described in their respective policies. Fair Observer does not receive personal data from your use of these social sharing buttons. It is not necessary that you use these buttons to read Fair Observer content or to share on social media. More

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    Making Sense of the Indian Position on the Russia-Ukraine War

    Fair Observer’s new feature FO° Insights makes sense of issues in the news. Last week, the former Agence France-Presse chief editor Florence Biedermann shared her views on the French presidential elections. The week before, former BBC Africa editor Martin Plaut explained the Tigray War in Ethiopia.

    This week, our founder, CEO and editor-in-chief explores why India is not lining up against Russia despite American pressure. He describes how historic ties, military equipment, geopolitical imperatives and a trust deficit between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Democrats lie behind India’s foreign policy decision.

    Watch or read Atul Singh make sense of it all.

    [embedded content]

    Atul Singh on India’s Position on the Russia-Ukraine War

    In this episode, we have our editor-in-chief explain the reasons behind India’s position in this conflict.

    Why won’t India denounce Russia? 

    Atul Singh: History, military equipment and the China factor explain India’s reticence on Russia. 

    History: Even before India became independent, it was inclined to socialism. Post-independence, India became a de facto Cold War ally. It was of course non-aligned but we know where India stood. 

    MIlitary Equipment: Most of India’s military equipment comes from Russia and Russian equipment is cheaper. It can be modified as India wishes unlike western equipment, which is more advanced and more reliable but also more expensive. 

    China Factor: India has a long  and disputed border with China. Given the fact that India relies on Russian kit, if Russia was to turn against India, then the country would face catastrophic defeat.

    How does India rely on Russia? 

    Atul Singh: India relies on Russia for defense, energy and geopolitical reasons.  

    On defense, given the fact that an estimated 70% of Indian military kit is Russian, India needs spare parts — critical particularly in times of war. When it comes to new kit, Russia allows India to modify it the way India wants and that is a big advantage. Also, Russia allows the transfer of technology, which the US, other countries in Europe, including France, are reluctant to allow. 

    For energy, the option of cheap or cut-price oil allows India greater leverage in its negotiations with its Middle Eastern energy suppliers. 

    And when it comes to geopolitical needs, Russia has backed India on Kashmir consistently over many decades and India is unsure about Western backing on Kashmir. 

    Why is India distrustful of the US? 

    Atul Singh: Well, part of it is a legacy of the Cold War. India was very much on the Soviet side, even if it was a soft Soviet ally.  

    Then in 1971, the US backed a military dictatorship in Pakistan whilst India was trying to liberate Bangladesh. Remember, Pakistan was running a genocidal regime in Bangladesh and using rape as a weapon of war. India has not forgotten that. 

    In the 1980s, the US funded a jihad in Afghanistan. Some of that money was used to fuel insurgency in India and, 1989 onwards, in Kashmir, many of these jihadis created mayhem. 

    Recently the withdrawal from Afghanistan has upset India. India spent an arm and a leg supporting the US-backed administration in Kabul and India feels betrayed.  

    There’s also that tiny little matter of political discord. India believes it is given no credit for sending 50,000 tons of wheat to Afghanistan, even though the US pulled out of the country. Recently, the US raised issues of human rights in India, which did not go down well.

    This is where the left-leaning Democrat government lacks the trust of the right-leaning BJP. There’s a huge trust deficit with the BJP government, which believes that the Democrats are plotting an orange revolution to unseat them just as they did in Ukraine. 

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    What is the China Factor? 

    Atul Singh: India and China share over 3,000 kilometers of border. And this border is not defined. There was a war in 1962 and there was a clash in 2020. 

    Should China launch a full-scale invasion and should Russia back China even if covertly, India would face catastrophic defeat. So, India wants Russia to play the role of an honest broker. 

    And good ties with Russia are an insurance against defeat vis à vis China. 

    What is India’s best case scenario? 

    Atul Singh: India’s best case scenario is a peace deal between Russia and Ukraine and the end of sanctions. Remember, India imports military kit both from Ukraine and Russia, so this war is causing havoc with its supplies. 

    Also remember India gets its investment from the US. India exports to the US, especially IT services and India sends students by the thousands to the US. India is deeply integrated into the US economic system.

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    This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy. More

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    Making Sense of India’s Newfound Love for Russian Oil

    India’s love affair with Russia began a long time ago. India won its independence from the UK in 1947. Jawaharlal Nehru, its first prime minister, was a self-declared socialist who drew inspiration from the Soviet Union. In the decades after independence, India swerved increasingly to the left. As a result, New Delhi developed extremely close relations with Moscow.

    Only after 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed, did New Delhi’s ties with Moscow weaken. In recent years, India has strengthened its relationship with the US. Both democracies find China a common threat. Furthermore, American investment has flowed into India while Indian students have flocked to the US. Indian politicians, movie stars and cricketers use American social media platforms such as Twitter and YouTube to campaign. Therefore, India’s neutrality on the Russian invasion of Ukraine has caused much heartburn in Washington.

    The recent visit of Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar and Defense Minister Rajnath Singh to the US did not go particularly well. The Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke about “monitoring some recent concerning developments in India, including a rise in human rights abuses by some government, police, and prison officials.” Blinken’s comment is less about human rights abuses and more about the US disapproval of India’s Ukraine policy and its purchase of Russian oil. So, why is New Delhi risking its relations with Washington and buying Russian oil?

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    Cheap Oil Option to Counter Inflation

    The Russian invasion of Ukraine has spiked global food, fertilizer and oil prices. The average monthly Brent crude oil price in December 2021 was $74.17. In March 2022, this had risen to $117.25. For an energy importer like India, this has spelled disaster. Inflation has shot up and the Reserve Bank of India has cut projected growth rates for the country. As a result, Russia’s offer of cut-price oil has become attractive to India.

    Given high prices, India is not alone in buying cheap Russian oil. Hungarian, Bulgarian and Greek refineries continue to buy Russian oil as do many others. The Indian press reports that  New Delhi “could be buying Russia’s flagship Urals grade at discounts of as much as $35 a barrel on prices before the war.” This is a very steep discount that offsets American and Western sanctions. With a per capita GDP that was only $1927.71 in 2020 and an unemployment crisis in the country, India cannot afford to forego the option of cheap oil.

    The option of buying Russian oil is also important for another reason. India sources its oil from many countries with Russia providing a tiny fraction of its energy needs. Iraq supplies 23% of India’s oil, Saudi Arabia 18% and the United Arab Emirates 11%. In 2022, exports from the US are likely to increase and meet 8% of India’s oil needs. Crucially though, India’s purchase of Russian oil gives it more leverage against other sellers. As Jaishankar rightly pointed out, India’s “total purchases for the month would be less than what Europe does in an afternoon.” Therefore, the US fixation with Indian oil purchases from Russia seems shortsighted and misguided.

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    A History of Romance, A Marriage of Geopolitical Realities

    As has been said by many foreign policy experts, India has shared a close strategic relationship with Russia for many decades. Once India chose socialism, the then Soviet Union traded preferentially with India. Moscow also provided and continues to provide the bulk of India’s defense needs. Even today, an estimated 70% of India’s defense equipment comes from Russia. Perhaps even more importantly, Moscow has shared nuclear, missile and space technology with New Delhi, enabling India to emerge as a major power.

    In 1971, the Soviet Union and India signed an important treaty. Later that year, Moscow backed New Delhi while Washington backed Islamabad. India was a democracy that reluctantly went to war to liberate Bangladesh. In the run up to the conflict, Pakistan’s military dictatorship was conducting genocide and using rape as a weapon of war against poor Bengalis in what was then known as East Pakistan. Russia has consistently backed India on Kashmir. In contrast, the US has regularly chided India for human rights abuses in Kashmir and taken a pro-Pakistan stance.

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    Even as ties with the US have improved, relations with Russia have remained important. In 2021, Russian President Vladimir Putin flew to New Delhi to meet Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. After the visit, retired Indian diplomat Ashok Sajjanhar concluded that Putin’s brief India trip had “reinvigorated a time-tested partnership.” Both countries signed many agreements, paying considerable attention to trade and investment relations. Traditional areas like nuclear energy, space and defense also got attention. Here, in the words of Sajjanhar “the most important decision was to commence manufacture of more than 700,000 assault AK-203 rifles with transfer of technology under the ‘Make in India’ program.”

    Russia is also helping India indigenize its defense production of T-90 tanks and Su-30-MKI aircraft. Russia also supplies spares and helps upgrade MiG-29-K aircraft, Kamov-31, Mi-17 helicopters, MiG-29 aircraft and multiple rocket launcher BM-30 Smerch. Despite an ongoing war with Ukraine and severe sanctions, Russia is delivering the second regiment of S400 missile defense systems to India. 

    India is in a rough neighborhood with two nuclear-armed neighbors. Both Pakistan and China claim Indian territory. The specter of a two-front war is a real one for India. Therefore, good relations with Russia, its biggest defense equipment and technology supplier, are critically important. This is a key reason for New Delhi to take up Moscow’s offer of cheap oil.

    As an independent nation and a rising global power, India has to act in its strategic interest. At the moment, this is best served by buying cheap Russian oil.

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy. More

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    Are Tamil Brahmins Finally Shifting Their Outlook on Caste?

    Seeing Devi, our servant maid, brew a cup of hot filter coffee for my mother, thoroughly shook me up. Devi? Enjoying free access to that sacrosanct location in a Tamil Brahmin home, its kitchen? Free to light the stove, boil the milk, prepare a south Indian decoction, make a steaming hot cup of filter coffee? That too, for my nonagenarian mother?

    Evidently, Devi has free access to every part of the house, including the kitchen, once considered inviolable by Brahmins. Four or five decades ago, an act like this would have been utterly inconceivable. Growing up, I remember servant maids barely had permission to walk inside our home, let alone enjoy unfettered access to the kitchen. When they did come inside, it was only to sweep and mop the floor, spending the minimal amount of time necessary to accomplish those chores.

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    The rest of their tasks, such as cleaning the vessels, washing the clothes and drying them on a clothesline, would be done in the backyard. Taking their sense of cleanliness to a new height, vessels cleaned by the servant maid would be rinsed once again with water untouched by the servant before they eventually found their way into the kitchen.

    I couldn’t help but reflect on the dramatic shift in attitude I observed in my family, belonging to the elite Tamil Brahmin upper caste, toward Devi, belonging to one of the lower castes. Is this experience unique to me and my family? Or is it something that is a reflection of the changing times in the traditionally conservative Tamil Brahmin community?

    I knew scientific evidence based on facts regarding the social change I was ruminating on would be hard to come by. But I was convinced that if I tried, I would find anecdotal evidence of this shift toward a more liberal way of life among other Tamil Brahmin — or colloquially, Tam Brahm — families.

    A Liberal Infusion

    Every parent desires upward mobility and better quality of life for their offspring. Not surprisingly, Tam Brahms also subscribed to the same sentiment. This quest for upward mobility among Tam Brahms resulted in a generational shift in the type of career they aimed for. Gone was their desire to secure a steady job in a bank, central government organization or, as a distant consolation prize, in a state government organization. Instead, they set their eyes on professional careers, armed with degrees in engineering or medicine. Some sought to become entrepreneurs, a rarity in the past.

    Securing professional degrees did not come easy for Tam Brahm youngsters. The Tamil Nadu state’s 69% caste-based reservation system in higher educational institutions meant many had to leave the comfort of their home and their home state in pursuit of those credentials. They may have left with apprehension, but that provided them an exposure to the outside world that was erstwhile impossible in the cocooned Tam Brahm way of life.

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    At a recent high school reunion, I had the opportunity to meet several of my childhood friends after a gap of more than 30 years. While many had spread their wings and flown far and wide, there were few who had stayed their entire life in Madurai, the town where I spent the bulk of my childhood. Conversations rarely went beyond the friendly banter befitting a reunion among childhood friends, but there were clear indications on where one stood on the conservative-liberal divide.

     A scientific survey, had one been done, would have corroborated the following hypothesis: Those who had the opportunity to explore the outside world, especially at the defining moment immediately following high school, typically subscribed to more liberal views.

    Aging and Necessity

    Decades ago, living in the rural towns of Tamil Nadu, my parents were steeped in caste-based hierarchical distinctions. Being young, they had little reason to question their belief system or modify their core values. Surely, views and beliefs passed down through generations wouldn’t crumble with the nascent liberal perceptions of their youngest children? They did not.

    During the phase when they were still strong and able, and I was behaving like an insufferable know-it-all, there were many occasions we simply had to agree to disagree. The shift I allude to started happening only as my parents started aging and developing a dependency on others. That shift accelerated when their primary caregivers, my older brother and sister-in-law, also entered the post-retirement phase of their life.

    Most interestingly, the interactions I shared with my parents played out in a slightly modified form among my brother’s own family. Dispelling my doubts that this could be unique to my immediate circle, Purushothaman and Sathesh, two Tam Brahm friends of mine, corroborated very similar developments in their respective families.

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    Sathesh remarked that his mom started yielding gracefully once she realized that resistance was futile. Puru concurred, albeit, in a less colorful, non-Star Trek language, saying that his mom is not where he is (on the conservative-liberal social spectrum), but that she is far more tolerant compared to her past self.

    As my mother entered her 90s, the demands on the care she needed increased. This set the perfect scenario for Devi to start playing an increasingly prominent role in the household work in order to ease the pressure on my brother and sister-in-law. It was not before the sexagenarian couple started embracing the help from their servant maid from an entirely different angle, while the nonagenarian matriarch was forced to let go of her deeply entrenched hierarchical distinctions.

    Far from reluctant tolerance, Devi’s presence has found grateful acceptance among my family members.

    Altruism?

    In the past, Brahmins asserted their superiority by employing a variety of oppressive techniques. While many of them involved dehumanizing and stripping away the agency of those beneath them, withholding knowledge was by far the most effective technique they employed to stay on top of the caste totem pole. It is no surprise that the caste-based reservation system targets this very aspect in higher educational institutions, offering preferential treatment to a staggering number of non-Brahmin caste and communities.

    This is not an article on the caste system in India, but I would unequivocally recommend “Annihilation of Caste,” a speech Dr. B. R. Ambedkar wrote in 1936, as a must-read for anyone interested in understanding this woeful practice.

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    In a dramatic U-turn from the behavior of withholding knowledge, it is now commonplace to see Tam Brahm households sponsoring the education of their servant maid’s children. Not only does this act guarantee upward mobility for those kids, but it also effectively reduces the supply of future maids.

    I asked Puru if this isn’t akin to shooting yourself in the foot. Puru, who had sponsored the school education not just of his servant maid’s children but also that of his neighborhood vegetable vendor’s son, commented succinctly, “It is the right thing to do.”

    A Glimpse Into the Future?

    If I thought I am liberal in my outlook, my children effortlessly put me to shame. The extent to which their ideas challenge the social status quo is more than evolutionary. They are downright revolutionary. But that is a topic for another article.

    What is important here is the concept of identity. While I still acknowledge and accept my Tam Brahm identity, to my children, it would hardly be a matter of significance. Sathesh wholeheartedly agreed, remarking that, while growing up, and even now, he was proud of his Tamil Brahmin heritage, but he sees that it makes absolutely no difference to his kids. Thinking about his older son who is a trained classical Carnatic musician, Puru chimed in, saying that despite the rigorous traditional gurukul education, his son espouses far more liberal views than him.

    The reshaping of this identity has many ramifications, the most prominent one being the number of inter-cultural and inter-caste marriages involving Tam Brahms. In the last decade, we have welcomed Gujarati, Malayalam and Punjabi grooms into our family. What was once unthinkable is now so commonplace that it has found broad social acceptance.

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    Tamil Brahmins, who account for less than 3% of the state’s population, may already be an endangered species as the pendulum of poetic justice swings hard to the other side. The threat to their identity from within and without causes many to lament about the future of Tam Brahms as a community. Particularly concerning is the plight of the learned priests, whose profession it is to administer and uphold the rituals and practices in Tamil Brahmin homes, temples and elsewhere.

    Me? I am simply glad that my family has embraced humanity over conservative traditionalism — and hope that the anecdotal evidence I have observed in my small circle of friends and family is a harbinger of things to come.

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy. More

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    India’s Reasons For Abstaining in the UN on Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

    On February 26, the United Nations Security Council voted on a resolution proposed by the United States. Of the 15 members of the Security Council, 11 voted in favor and Russia unsurprisingly used its veto to kill the resolution. China, India and the United Arab Emirates abstained. Two days later, India abstained on a vote at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that set up an international commission of inquiry into Russia’s actions in Ukraine. The country also abstained at the UN General Assembly, which voted 141-5 to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

    India’s abstentions have led to much heartburn in the US and Europe. One high-flying national security lawyer in Washington argued that India was wrong to ignore Russia tearing down Article 2(4) of the Charter of the United Nations. Like many others, he took the view that India has sided with an aggressive autocrat, weakened its democratic credentials and proved to be a potentially unreliable partner of the West. The Economist has called India “abstemious to a fault.”

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    In particular, serving and retired American and British diplomats have been wringing their hands at India’s reticence to vote against Russia. For many Americans, this is a betrayal of the good faith that the US has reposed in India by giving the country a special nuclear deal in 2008 and designating India as a “major defense partner” in 2016. In 2018, the US elevated India to Strategic Trade Authorization tier 1 status, giving India license-free access to a wide range of military and dual-use technologies regulated by the Department of Commerce, a privilege the US accords to very few other countries. On Capitol Hill, India’s abstention is further viewed as an act of bad faith because many members of Congress and senators worked hard to waive sanctions against India. These were triggered by the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act when India bought Russian S-400 missile systems. 

    Many Western business leaders are now wondering if India is a safe place to do business after the latest turn of events. For some in the West, this is yet another example of India slipping inexorably down the slippery slope of authoritarianism under the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

    Two Unfriendly Nuclear Neighbors

    Such fears are overblown. India remains a thriving democracy. Elections just took place in five states after colorful political campaigns. Infrastructure development in India is going on at a record pace and growth remains high amidst inflationary pressures. Despite some blunders such as the 2016 demonetization of high-denomination currency notes and the botched 2017 rollout of the goods and services tax, the Modi-led BJP has become more market-friendly.

    As per the World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 report, India ranked 63 out of the surveyed 190 countries, a marked improvement from the 134 rank in 2014 when Modi came to power. Like the US, India is a fractious and, at times, exasperating democracy, but it is a fast-growing large economy. Even as US manufacturers Chevrolet and Ford exited the Indian market, Korean Kia and Chinese MG Motor India have achieved much success.

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    India is also proving to be a major force for stability in the region. After “America’s Afghanistan’s fiasco,” India has been picking up the pieces in an increasingly unstable region. The country is now providing humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people even as the US has abandoned them. Thousands of trucks roll out daily from India to Afghanistan via Pakistan as part of India’s effort to feed millions of starving Afghans. India is delivering 50,000 tons of wheat to a country led by the Taliban. Earlier, India sent 500,000 coronavirus vaccines as well as 13 tons of essential medicines and winter clothing to Afghanistan. Despite its reservations about the new regime in Kabul that offered refuge to hijackers of an Indian plane in 1999 and sent jihadists to Kashmir, a government branded as anti-Muslim by The New York Times is behaving magnanimously to help millions of Afghans facing starvation.

    Despite its thriving democracy and growing economy, India remains a highly vulnerable nation in an extremely rough neighborhood. To its west lies an increasingly more radical Pakistan that, in the words of the late Stephen Philip Cohen, uses “terror as an instrument of state policy in Kashmir.” To its east lies an increasingly aggressive China led by President Xi Jinping assiduously using salami-slicing tactics to claim more Indian territory. In sharp contrast to the US, India has two nuclear-armed neighbors and faces the specter of a two-front war given what Andrew Small has called the China–Pakistan axis.

    National security that occupies much headspace in Washington is a constant headache for New Delhi. Multiple insurgencies, street protests, mass movements, foreign interference and the specter of nuclear war are a daily worry. During the Cold War, Pakistan was an ally of the US and benefited greatly from American funding of the Afghan jihad against the Soviet Union. A 1998 report by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) tells us India was among the top three recipients of Soviet/Russian weapons from 1982 to 1996. 

    More recently, India has diversified its arms imports. A 2021 SIPRI fact sheet makes clear that India is now the biggest importer of French and Israeli arms. From 2011-15 to 2016-20 Russian arms exports to India dropped by 53%, but the country still remained the top importer. In 2016-20, Russia, France and Israel’s share of India’s arms imports comprised 49%, 18% and 13% respectively. A retired assistant chief of the integrated staff estimates that around 70% of India’s military arsenal is of Russian origin.

    Given Indian dependence on Russian military hardware, it is only natural that New Delhi cannot afford to annoy Moscow. Critical Russian spares keep the defense forces combat-ready. For high-tech weaponry, which has the added advantage of coming at affordable prices, India relies on Russia. Moscow has also shared software and proprietary interaction elements for weapons delivery systems with New Delhi. Furthermore, Russia allows India to integrate locally-made weapons into its fighter jets or naval vessels unlike the US or even France. 

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    From New Delhi’s point of view, the India–Russia military-technical cooperation is even more valuable than Russian military kit. Unlike the West, Russia has been willing to transfer technology, enabling India to indigenize some of its defense production. This began in the 1960s when India moved closer to the Soviet Union even as Pakistan became a full-fledged US ally. Since then, Moscow has shared critical technologies over many decades with New Delhi. India’s supersonic anti-ship missile BrahMos that the Philippines recently bought is indigenized Russian technology as is India’s main battle tank.

    As a vulnerable nation in a rough neighborhood, India relies on Russia for security. Therefore, New Delhi decided it could not upset Moscow and abstained at all forums.

    The China Factor

    There is another tiny little matter worrying India. It is certain that Xi is observing and analyzing the Russian invasion of Ukraine. As a revisionist power, China seeks to overturn the postwar order. Beijing has designs on Taiwan and territorial disputes with many of its neighbors. Its most recent armed confrontation occurred with India though. Since that June 2020 clash, Indian and Chinese troops are locked in a stalemate that repeated rounds of talks have failed to resolve.

    More than anyone else, India fears a Russia–China axis. If Moscow threw in its lot with Beijing, India — deprived of technology and critical spares — might face a military catastrophe. If Russia sided with China in case of a conflict between the two Asian giants, India would face certain defeat.

    Recent military cooperation between Russia and China has worried India. A few months ago, a flotilla of 10 Russian and Chinese warships circumnavigated Japan’s main island of Honshu for the very first time. This joint exercise demonstrated that Russia and China now have a new strategic partnership. Despite their rivalry in Central Asia and potential disputes over a long border, the two could team up like Germany and Austria-Hungary before World War I. Such a scenario would threaten both Asia and Europe but would spell disaster for India. Therefore, New Delhi has been working hard to bolster its ties with Moscow.

    In December 2021, Russian President Vladimir Putin flew to India to meet Modi. During Putin’s trip, both countries signed a flurry of arms and trade deals. Apart from declarations about boosting trade and investment as well as purchasing various military equipment, Russia transferred the technology and agreed to manufacture more than 700,000 AK-203 rifles in India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh where the BJP has just been reelected. In the words of a seasoned Indian diplomat Ashok Sajjanhar, Putin’s visit “reinvigorated a time-tested strategic partnership between India and Russia.”

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    Sajjanhar left unsaid what astute Indian diplomats say in private. India’s close relationship with Russia is insurance against China. New Delhi wants Moscow to act as a moderating influence on Beijing and act as an honest broker between the two Asian giants. India believes that there is no power other than Russia that could act as its bridge to China.

    The Weight of History

    When Sajjanhar was speaking about a time-tested relationship, he meant decades of close India–Russia ties. During World War II and in the run-up to independence in 1947, the US earned much goodwill because Franklin D. Roosevelt championed the Atlantic Charter, promising independence to the colonies. However, relationships soured soon after independence because India chose socialism under its first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.

    When the US conducted a coup against the democratically elected Iranian government of Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953, India came to view the US as a neocolonial power. It is easy to forget now that Washington backed the interests of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company over those of the government of Iran, triggering trepidation among Indian leaders who remembered clearly that their country was colonized by the British East India Company. The coup gave both capitalism and the US a bad name and pushed New Delhi closer to Moscow.

    In the following years, India’s ties with the Soviet Union strengthened. As Pakistan became a firm Cold War ally of the US, India embraced socialism ever more firmly and became a de facto Soviet ally, claims of non-alignment notwithstanding. In 1956, the Soviet tanks crushed the Hungarian Revolution. Nehru censured Moscow in private but refused to condemn Soviet action even as he railed against the Anglo-French intervention in the Suez. As per Swapna Kona Nayudu’s well-researched paper for the Wilson Center, New Delhi now became “a crucial partner in international politics for Moscow.”

    In 1968, the Soviets crushed the Prague Spring, an uprising in then-Czechoslovakia that aimed to reform the communist regime. Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi, was prime minister, and she publicly called for the Soviets to withdraw their troops. In the UN Security Council, though, India abstained in the vote on the Czechoslovakia matter, attracting widespread condemnation from the American press.

    Three years later, India went to war with Pakistan to liberate Bangladesh. This did not go down well in the US, despite the fact that the military dictatorship of Pakistan was inflicting murder, torture and rape in a genocide of horrific proportions. During the 1971 India–Pakistan War, Richard Nixon called Gandhi a “bitch” and Henry Kissinger termed Indians as “bastards.” Indian diplomats repeatedly point out that Nixon and Kissinger ignored their own diplomats like Archer Blood who valiantly spoke truth to power about Pakistani atrocities, a story chronicled superbly by Princeton professor Gary J. Bass in “The Blood Telegram.” Instead, they sent vessels from the Seventh Fleet to intervene on Pakistan’s behalf. It was the Soviets who came to India’s rescue by sending their naval vessels to counter the American ones.

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    India repaid Moscow’s 1971 favor when Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan. In 1980, India refused to condemn this invasion at the UN. During the decade that followed, the US funded the mujahideen in Afghanistan through Pakistan. Relations between the US and Pakistan became closer than ever at a time when General Zia-ul-Haq launched Operation Tupac to “bleed India through a thousand cuts” by championing insurgencies within India. First Punjab and then Kashmir went up in flames. Terrorism became a feature of daily life for India, but the US turned a Nelson’s eye to the phenomenon until the grim attacks of September 11, 2001.

    Since those attacks, India and the United States have moved closer together. Thousands of Indian students study in the US every year, American investment has flowed into India and defense cooperation has steadily increased. The US views India as a valuable partner to contain the rise of an aggressive China, and New Delhi cares more about Washington than any other capital on the planet.

    Even as US–India ties have deepened, New Delhi has retained close ties with Moscow. Russia continues to build nuclear power plants in energy-hungry India. Plans to import more Russian oil and gas have also been in the works. Because of these ties, India did not condemn Russian action against Crimea in 2014. The left-leaning government in power at that time went on to say that Russia had “legitimate” interests in Ukraine.

    It is important to note that no opposition party has criticized the government’s position. Shashi Tharoor, a flamboyant MP of the Indian National Congress party who said that India was on “the wrong side of history,” got rapped on the knuckles by his bosses. The opposition and the government have almost identical views on the matter. Neither supports Russian aggression against Ukraine, but no party wants to criticize an old friend of the nation.

    Political Factors, Domestic and International

    War in Ukraine is obviously not in India’s interest. India imports energy, and rising oil prices are going to unleash inflation in an economy with high unemployment. This worries both political and business leaders. In its statement at the UN, India called for peace and diplomacy. In official statements, India has also expressed support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. India does not in any way support Russian aggression but cannot criticize Moscow for a host of reasons described above as well as often overlooked political factors.

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    Indian leaders have also been preoccupied with elections in five critical states. Political analysts consider these elections to be a dress rehearsal for the 2024 national elections. With stakes so high, the ruling BJP was under pressure to bring home thousands of Indian students studying in Ukraine safely. For this, India relied on Russia. While some might say this necessitated a Faustian silence, 18,000 Indian lives were at stake.

    India also had reservations about Ukraine. Reports of Indian students facing racism in Ukraine have been doing the rounds on social media. These may be info ops by Russians, but they have touched a chord among the masses. Press reports of fleeing Indian students facing racism and segregation at the Ukrainian border have not helped, nor have memories of Ukrainian arms deals with Pakistan, which have triggered Indian suspicions. Even though India is against the conflict, New Delhi does not want to forsake an old friend and support a potentially hostile power.

    India also suspects the motives of the West in taking on Putin. There is a strong feeling across nearly all political parties that the US would not show the same concern for a non-white nation in Asia or Africa. Left-leaning parties point out that the US and the UK based their 2003 invasion of Iraq on a pack of lies. A popular Indian television anchor has railed against the “racist reportage” of Western media that treats blue-eyed, blonde Ukrainian refugees differently to Syrian or Afghan ones.

    There is also another matter driving India’s hesitation to go along completely with the US in targeting Russia. An increasing trust deficit between the Democrats and the BJP is harming US–India relations. For years, The New York Times and The Washington Post have relentlessly criticized the BJP, accusing the party of being authoritarian, if not fascist. Even food aid to the impoverished citizens in Taliban-led Afghanistan did not get any recognition from the papers of record in New York and Washington.

    Billionaires like George Soros who support Democrats have been vocal against the BJP and Modi. Their foundations have also funded Indian organizations opposed to the BJP. Americans see this funding as an expression of idealism that seeks to promote civil society and democracy. On the other hand, many Indians see American funding as a sinister ploy to weaken the nationalist BJP and replace them with weak, pliant leaders. Indians are also irked by the fact that Democrats rarely give credit to the BJP for winning elections, the democratic proof of its platform’s popularity.

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    Democrats have also been pressuring India to legalize gay marriage, forgetting that the issue is pending before the Indian Supreme Court. Indians point out that it was the British who decreed “unnatural” sexual acts” as not just illegal but also imprisonable during Queen Victoria’s heyday. The BJP has already come out in favor of legalizing homosexuality but has no power to intervene in a matter pending before the court. The failure of Democrats to recognize this reeks of a white savior complex that destroys trust between Washington and New Delhi. 

    Many BJP leaders are convinced that the Democrats are plotting some sort of a regime change in the 2024 elections. They believe there is an elaborate game plan in place to discredit Modi and the BJP. In this worldview, the Democrat establishment is manipulating discourse and peddling narratives that could lead to some version of the Orange Revolution in India. They are convinced that once Putin goes, Modi might be next. Even though India is opposed to a war that is severely hurting its economy, this fear of Western interference in domestic political matters is one more reason for India to abstain from turning on its old friend Russia.

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy. More