Keeping New Delhi onside . . .
This week, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen wrapped up a two-day visit to the Indian capital of New Delhi, where she addressed attendees of the Raisina Dialogue, India’s premier annual conference on international politics and economics. It was the third such engagement this month of New Delhi by high-level Western officials, signalling India’s growing cachet as the geopolitical fault lines between the West and Russia and China continue to harden. Last week, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, pledging to strengthen the two countries’ defence and security partnership. And in mid-April, Washington hosted a ‘2+2 Ministerial Dialogue’ between the Indian and U.S. foreign and defence ministers.
Russia factor still looms . . .
A front-burner issue in all these meetings was India’s refusal to openly condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. While Western leaders continue to apply pressure, especially as evidence of Russian atrocities mounts, many observers are coming around to the view that India is unlikely to turn its back on Moscow. Not only does India rely heavily on Russia for critical military equipment, but, as one expert notes, Russia has also historically supported India on the global stage on Kashmir-related issues. Moreover, the U.S.-India relationship is becoming multi-faceted enough to insulate it from the occasional stress test, not least of all because of their shared concerns about China.
New Delhi pushes back . . .
India comes away from this month’s engagements with several concrete benefits, including new agreements on trade, technology, and defence co-operation. Less tangible but nonetheless significant was the opportunity for India to turn the tables on its Western interlocutors in their demands that it ‘pick a side’ between Russia and the West. Speaking at the Raisina Dialogue, External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar pointed out the West’s own glaring shortcomings in responding to crises in Asia, such as its abandonment of the people of Afghanistan and what New Delhi views as Europe’s silence over Chinese aggression along the China-India border. It remains to be seen whether India will be able to – or want to – leverage this attentiveness from international partners to assume a higher profile in global diplomacy.