It is refreshing to find that our politicians can agree on something --- something of vital national interest. Bitter invective and mutual finger-pointing being the staple of their daily politics in and out of Parliament, the broader consensus on the Ukraine stance is absolutely reassuring. Divisive politics has its place but national interest is paramount. The happy occasion was the debate on the unending Russian dance of death in Ukraine. In the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, members cutting across party lines supported the Government which “unequivocally condemned” the killing of civilians in Bucha, a town north of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv. The retreating Russian troops reportedly brutally laid waste to the town, raping women, torturing and killing civilians, and dumping the bodies in hurriedly dug ditches. The number of bodies discovered hidden under loose plastic sheets so far varies between two to three hundred. The wider world was outraged. And it responded as it should have, with great anger and horror. India was forthright in voicing condemnation while demanding an independent probe. Anything less would have shown it as a coward, exposing its vulnerability to Russia since it still sources nearly half its military ware from the successor State to the Soviet Union.
Remarkably, China refrained from condemning the Bucha killings, again underlining the difference in her and India’s stance. Ever since Putin ordered his troops to invade Ukraine on February 24, India has taken a nuanced stand. While not pointedly joining the US-led bloc in omnibus condemnation, India nonetheless has stressed the need for every member-State to respect the territorial integrity of sovereign, independent nations. It is this fine diplomatic balance that elicited a welcome pat from members of various parties in the Lok Sabha. In fact, after a long time, Congress MPs found an occasion to hail Jawaharlal Nehru for the non-alignment policy. Though much water has flowed down the Yamuna bridge, and the Cold War and its creature non-alignment lie buried several fathoms deep, Indian foreign policy still bears out the truth in the old saying: Nations do not have permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests. The Ukraine policy fully illustrates the truth in that old saying. By now, it ought to be clear how in recent years India has slowly but certainly veered away from Russia to recast its policy more pragmatically. On its part, Russia too is beginning to do business with Pakistan. Notably, the beleaguered Imran Khan was in Moscow on the day Russia sent in its troops into Ukraine. As for China, on Putin’s visit to Beijing only a few days before the attack on Ukraine, he and Xi Jinping pronounced that there were 'no limits on our friendship.’
Expectedly, India’s independent policy is not to the liking of the US which would like for it to ditto its aggressive hostility towards Russia. Wisely, Modi refuses to play ball. India is too big and too proud to be anyone’s poodle. No sir, we will fashion our own foreign policy whether you approve or disapprove. No nation however powerful can be allowed to arrogate to itself the right to dictate to another independent nation. In an increasingly interdependent world, nations are free to choose what is best for them. The days of rival blocs disappeared with the end of the Cold War. In a multi-polar world, nations are free to pursue their interests regardless of whom they may please or displease. Therefore, India was right to tell that self-important Daleep Singh, the US Deputy National Security Advisor, who came calling the other day to go take a hike when he insisted that we stop buying oil from Russia and echo the US on Ukraine. Was he being undiplomatic because he was of Indian origin and felt the need to burnish his American credentials or did his curt behaviour reflected the usual cockiness American diplomats display while strutting on the world stage?
Either way, the world has moved on. And Americans need to learn to treat other nations with due respect and civility. As for the Quad, protecting maritime freedoms in the Indo-Pacific region is equally in the interest of the US, Japan, and Australia to ensure that a power-drunk China does not menace the free world. The short point is that India being the biggest democracy is a natural partner of the free world, but in no case will it surrender its right to frame its own foreign, and, for that matter, domestic policy, to another country howoever strong it may be. In the light of that cardinal principle, India’s Ukraine policy rightly elicited praise from all sections of its polity.