Worldview with Suhasini Haidar | Jaishankar’s strategy: Is Non-Alignment back in India?

Worldview with Suhasini Haidar | Jaishankar’s strategy: Is Non-Alignment back in India?

This week, we look at the Raisina Dialogue held in Delhi this week, and whether India’s position is defensive, or a call for a new non-aligned posture for the world in the throes of great power conflict?

Sparks flew across the Raisina sessions, where a number of European Foreign Ministers and officials, led by European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen hardened positions on Russia, and called on India to reconsider its position on the conflict in Ukraine.

During the EU President’s speech, and when the Foreign Ministers came face to face at a townhall with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, many questions were asked.

EAM Jaishankar’s responses were sharp- possibly he has heard many of these questions for the past 2 months- when he himself visited Munich and Paris, and has hosted more than a dozen foreign ministers, mostly from the Western alliance against Russia in Delhi– in the space of 2 weeks..and said India needs no other country’s approval.

Mr. Jaishankar also invoked Afghanistan and asked where the world was when countries like China and Pakistan challenged the rules based order.

Some testy moments there…Now, the Russian war in Ukraine is more than two months old—and still shows no sign of ending. As we have dealt with in previous episodes of WorldView, India has

1. Continued to abstain at all UN and multilateral votes criticising Russia

2. Refused to join sanctions by more than 30 countries, including the US, EU, India’s Quad partners Australia, Japan and others

3. Increased its intake of Russian oil, amidst a US ban, and European calls to cut Russian imports

4. Discussed with Russia how to build payment mechanisms that subvert or circumvent the sanctions

5. But at the same time, India has called for diplomacy and dialogue, the need to respect sovereignty and an end to hostilities

Is this Non-Alignment?

Many are now asking if – after 8 years in power, the Modi government is re-embracing India’s older principles of non-alignment, at a time when the world is becoming more and more divided between the US and Europe on one side, and Russia and China

The Non aligned Movement, that came about in 1961 because of a conference in Bandung in 1955 – saw five global leaders at the height of the Cold War: PM Nehru, President Tito of Yugoslavia, Naser of Egypt, Nkrumah of Ghana and President Sukarno of Indonesia. Today it has 120 members or 2/3rds of the UN.

What are the problems with Non alignment in today’s scenario?

1. The Modi government has thus far rejected NAM as a Nehruvian era idea, and uses the terms strategic autonomy to describe its policies now

2. PM Modi has not attended a NAM summit even once, becoming the first full term PM of India to skip NAM summits

3. In the past few years, India has joined multiple groupings that are built around global powers: the Quad around the United States, and the SCO around Russia and China

4. India’s problems with Pakistan, as well as countries like Malaysia and other countries that have been critical of India on Human rights violations, Jammu Kashmir, and the treatment of minorities

5. Other NAM members like Iran, Cuba, Venezuela are under heavy sanctions from the West, and India’s ties with them are no longer as robust either

Reasons for a new non alignment initiative:

1. The world is facing challenges from great power conflicts again- Mr. Jaishankar referred to Afghanistan, Covid, Ukraine as examples where “big power rivalry” is having global consequences

2. India maintains many of the NAM principles: political self-determination, mutual respect for sovereignty, non-aggression, non-interference in internal affairs, and equality.

3. NAM Members are admitted if they take independent policies on great power conflict, not be a member of any defence alliance or host a foreign military base- all criteria India still adheres to

4. While more than 120 countries voted to censure Russia at the UN, no more than 40 have joined the US and EU’s sanctions, indicating that many countries are unwilling to be drawn into the growing battle-lines between Russia and the West and China and the West.

5. The members are mostly from the global south, which ties with the Indian push for South South cooperation. 53 from Africa, 39 from Asia, 26 from Latin America & Caribbean, and 2 from Europe.

6. All India’s neighbours- including Bhutan Bangladesh Nepal Maldives and Sri Lanka are members of NAM today, and share the value of independent foreign policy with India

The strong pushback India has made against any requests to shift its position will be tested again this week, as PM Modi travels to Europe- Germany, Denmark and France at the beginning of May, and again at the end of the month, when he is due to travel to Japan for a Quad summit with leaders of US, Australia and Japan.

Later this year, he will travel to Indonesia for the G-20, which is now split down the middle over whether to include Russian President Putin or not. Given the pressures of today, India could once again essay a founding role in a new non aligned structure away from the big powers.

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