India refusing to take a firm line on the invasion while continuing to see itself as the world’s teacher is not credible
- Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has placed moral responsibility on India, both as one of the world’s largest countries and its most populous democracy.
- However, at UN India has refused to condemn the violation of the rights of the Ukrainians.
- India has moved with alacrity to save its citizens without expressing compassion for the people of Ukraine who face an onslaught from a much larger military power than them.
- It would be natural for observers to equate the actions of the state in a democracy with the will of the people.
- So, the Indian government’s abstention in the UNSC vote on Ukraine is sure to rebound on Indians in their interaction with the rest of the world in the future, unfavorably.
No commitment to principle
- Arguments justifying India’s stance in the UN have emanated from the grandees of India’s diplomatic corps and current members of the national security community.
- The first of these is that in international affairs, a country must be guided by its national interest and not some abstract principles.
- It is argued that due to the very high dependence of India on the Soviet Union for defense equipment and the need of support on the Pakistan issue in the Security Council, India must not offend Russia by condemning the invasion.
- The result is that India makes statements that convince no one, only drawing attention to its lack of commitment to principle in international affairs.
- Actually interests and principles are not that apart.
- If a people’s principles are their most deeply held beliefs about how the world must be ordered, then their interest lies in ensuring that their principles prevail in international relations.
- If India does not want to be seen as a victim of territorial aggression in the future, it must communicate strongly on the world stage that it condemns the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The difference now
- People in charge of India’s foreign policy must reflect on its choice to be on the same page as China a habitual violator of the norm of peaceful coexistenc on an issue of unprovoked aggression against a sovereign state. At a time when India’s abstention on the Russian invasion of Ukraine is being likened to its abstention in the UN on the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 it would do to recognise the difference.
- In the 1950s the West was clearly unsympathetic to India, on the Kashmir issue at the UN as early as 1947.
- While the Soviet Union had rescued India several times by exercising its veto in the UNSC.
- Now the situation has changed.
- Public opinion in the West does not favor unconditional support of Pakistan vis-à-vis India while Russia encourages Pakistan.
- Moreover, by now we know that some limited support at the UN matters little, as taking the Kashmir issue to the UNSC has not gotten Pakistan to withdraw from the territory it occupied.
- As India does not intend to expand its territory, it need not rely on any particular country that is a permanent member of the Security Council to support its future plans
The defense supply argument
- India relies on the Russians for defense equipment and their spare parts.
- At the same time there is a global market for arms.
- It is not evident that anything withheld by the Russians cannot be sourced from that market.
- India has in the past bought guns from Sweden, ships from the UK and aircraft from France.
- There is considerable spare capacity in the production of weapons in this world, and ready money is sure to get you the goods you seek.
As an east-west conflict
- To avert one’s eyes from unprovoked aggression towards an independent country by one 10 times stronger would be to reveal a total lack of moral fiber.
- To say that this is just another east-west conflict from which India should stay out is tantamount to seeing the Russian invasion and the brave defense of their country by the Ukrainians as a mere marital squabble.
- If there is a maxim that conveys an ancient belief of Indians, it is Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, implying that the world is a family.
- Families do not usually tolerate the bullying of the weak by those stronger among them.
- If India had allowed this principle to fall by the wayside in 1956 when it refused to condemn the Soviet invasion of Hungary, its action today is much worse.
- At that time, Jawaharlal Nehru was only concerned with propagating the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, christened Panchsheel. Today.
- Empowered by its economic ascent over the decades, present PM talks of India being the ‘ Vishwaguru’ or World Teacher.
- By continuing to see herself as the world’s teacher while refusing to take a stand on the invasion of Ukraine, India mocks her chosen self-image.
- India’s foreign policy establishment seems to have missed its significance for the world.
- India is a democracy and it has not officially discarded Panchsheel as yet.
- It cannot look away from the violation of widely accepted norms contained in the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine for fear of losing access to its supply of armaments or of reciprocal support in the UN on matters of concern to it.
- Standing up for what you believe in brings with it the possibility of encountering hardship.
- But then, sticking to its principles is not just in India’s national interest, it is also its own reward.