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India in geopolitics and at home: two worlds

未知との遭遇, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

The picture of India’s geostrategic position is moving, these days. Over recent months, China’s geopolitical behaviour and accompanying diplomatic rhetoric have become strikingly more assertive and more threatening for its neighbourhood. But in the logic of cause and effect, international resistance against China is growing, too. US-President Biden has recently called for a digital summit of the rejuvenated Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, Quad, that loose strategic grouping which is assembling the US, Japan, Australia and India and is directed against China’s expansion in the Indo-Pacific. India under PM Modi is now explicitly admitting that it is part of the Quad because of China’s aggressive expansion. This political confession is new and marks an important step in the region’s evolving strategic landscape determined to impede China’s outreach. The most recent moves do not come as a surprise. Over recent years, changing Indian governments have continued to pursue their slow rapprochement to the West, the specific bilateral relationship with the USA being the core element of it. On the US-side, all Presidents from Clinton onwards, have patiently prepared and nurtured India’s eventual turn to Western dominated forums, the most recent, apart from the Quad-relation, being the invitation to participate in the G-7 meeting in London this summer. The London meeting will possibly be the starting point for the creation of a “Democracy of Ten” or D-10, assembling the ten leading democratic states of the world. Of particular importance was, half a year ago, the initiative to consult with the Five Eyes, a very tightly knit sort of alliance of the Intelligence Services of the five Anglo-Saxon countries USA, Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, which serves as a sign of growing confidence in India as a strategic partner in world affairs. Undeniably, India has become a central cornerstone in the concept of the Indo-Pacific as an integrated strategic area and of the Free and Open Indo-Pacific as a political and ultimately military strategy. Modi stands for most of India’s official determination to come closer to working with the West in the global arena.

At the same time, however, India in the last minute stepped out of the nascent large free trade area called Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, RCEP, which includes China and excludes the USA. Heavy weight trading economies like China, Japan and South Korea will most probably be profiting from the world’s coming largest free trade area, while the USA for not having been invited to join and India for having refused to be part of it, will be the losers once the economic impact can be measured. Obviously, Modi’s India is putting the risk of having to absorb more Chinese exports above the chances to profit from new and growing export opportunities within RCEP for its own industrial goods. With all its private market economy and free trade rhetoric the Modi government reveals more and more how much it is driven by ideologically motivated domestic priorities, this in contrast with its newly found geostrategic position in the Indo-Pacific. Smart geostrategic moves make you assume that the concept behind them is free from ideological burden. In its seventh year in office, India’s leadership, however, has developed into a biased Hindu-nationalistic rule which overtly discriminates against non-Hindu minorities especially against Muslims, who, after all and with some two hundred million people, represent the second or third largest Muslim community in the world and constitute one sixth of the Indian nation. This, in itself, is already a tragic betrayal of Nehru’s strictly secular Republic.

What comes in addition, is Modi’s now evident incompetence to manage the nation under the stress of a health disaster. When the pandemic started to ravage the world, it could be foreseen that the Indian government would have great difficulties to cope with the disaster. Now it has become a fact that India is experiencing the world’s sharpest increase of COVID-19 infections and deaths without any hope that it will be able to control the recent surge anytime soon. Other countries who had been negligent at the beginning of the pandemic, like the US and Britain, appear to be successful now in containing a further rapid spread of the virus. India, however, seems to be set for the worst. After promising beginnings in the field of promoting Indian interests in the world during Modi’s first term in office, the prospects have turned sombre for the Subcontinent. If the health crisis continues to damage the economy, the consequences for the development of the country’s strategic means will ultimately impact India’s capacity to promote its international interests and its role as a relevant partner for others.

29th April 2021 / Philippe Welti

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