Every prime ministerial visit abroad results in a few agreements, a joint statement and often agreements between Indian companies and host nation’s companies. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Russia on that score was no different. He had a successful one-to-one with President Vladimir Putin in which it was decided to further deepen the old strategic and economic ties. A number of contracts by Indian public and private companies were signed. And for the first time a foreign government agreed to prop up Modi Government’s `Make in India’ programme by undertaking to manufacture strategic weapon systems in the country under that flagship programme. As we have noted in this space earlier, Modi has proved himself to be a consummate diplomat, and his skills in marketing India to his foreign hosts and to the India-linked people in those countries are now widely acknowledged. Because he is such a success abroad his domestic critics have taken to nit-picking about his `excessive’ foreign forays. Any prime minister has to necessarily go abroad to do business on behalf of his country; Modi is no exception. It is only because his predecessor made no impact, whether he was at home or abroad, that the Congress Opposition finds it all the more galling that Modi is walking away with plaudits from his foreign hosts, counterparts and from the televised audiences of PIOs and others whom he unfailingly woos with his inimitable silver-tongued oratory. Even in Moscow on the last leg of his two-day journey the PM found time to charm the NRIs and the locals with ties to India, paying handsome tribute to a troupe of Russian women who gave an excellent performance of Indian classical dances to an enthralled audience. As for the substantive business, much seemed to have been accomplished. To begin with, Russia will construct, in partnership with Indian companies, 12 more nuclear power plants in two different sites in India. This will be part of the `Make in India’ programme. On-going work at the controversial Kudankulam plant in Tamil Nadu, Putin said at a joint press conference with Modi, will be completed soon. Following the commissioning of Unit-II, negotiations for Unit –III and IV would begin immediately. Clearly, the NGO-instigated anti-Kudankulam protest has died down, particularly after the crackdown on the foreign NGO, Greenpeace. Also, an agreement to manufacture Kamov-226 helicopters in India under the same flagship Make in India programme in the defence sector was signed between the two governments. Admittedly, India has broad-based sourcing its defence needs in recent years, no longer relying virtually exclusively on Russia, but there is now more maturity and pragmatism in bilateral economic and strategic ties. Russia too, on its part, has begun to do business with Pakistan unmindful of Indian sensibilities.
Indeed, it is this understanding in both Moscow and New Delhi that each country will do in a situation what is best for its interests that Russia is largely accommodative of Pakistan and the Taliban in Afghanistan while India looks at both with great suspicion and distrust. Given Russia’s own Islamic extremists, it would rather keep the Afghan Taliban in good humor than invite a backlash in its own backyard from those who are one with the Afghan jihadis. Be that as it may, neither past ties nor emotion informs diplomacy in either country. The fact that Putin is able and willing to do business in defence and hydrocarbons despite our `natural’ alliance with the US is a tribute to pragmatism. Indeed, both Putin and Modi at the joint press conference narrowed differences about Syria to express the hope that the West Asian crisis can be resolved early with a broader consensus among all actors. Given the sharp differences between the West and Russia on the continuance of President Bashir Assad, there was no further room for Modi to get specific in the matter. During the visit the public sector behemoth, ONGC’s foreign arm, ONGC Videsh Limited and the second largest Russian oil company, Rosneft, signed an agreement whereby the Indian company would acquire 15 percent stake in the Russian company for $1.3 billion. Ahead of Modi’s visit, the Defence Ministry had announced the decision to acquire five units of the S-400 Triump air defence missile systems from Russia at about Rs. 30,000 crores. Again, these are to be manufactured in India under the Make in India programme in partnership with a private Indian company which has entered the defence sector in a big way after the Modi Government opened up the sector for private participation. Clearly, Indo-Russian ties are now on a strong footing, freed from the baggage of the Cold War when India felt obliged to rely almost exclusively on Moscow’s support. Now the relationship is need-based, pragmatic and dependent on exploiting each other’s economic and strategic strengths and weaknesses.