By Sunil Dang
When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid an official visit to Russia in May 2018 many eyebrows were raised as the visit was announced in the wake of US President Donald Trump’s unilateral decision to come out of Iran Deal. However, what followed after Modi put his feet in Moscow was more astonishing as many protocols were broken to make the Indian PM feel at home. In fact, Vladimir Putin himself came to see off Modi when he was leaving for New Delhi from Russia.
The global political observers at that time had expressed the growing Indian image in the geo-political stage behind this Russian warmth for Indian PM. This warmth was visible again when Putin came for his two days visit to India recently when he went out of turn and hugged Modi while posing for media. Once again political observers repeated the same decoding of body languages of both leaders. But, I have a different take, especially the way Indian PM launched attack on the Congress Party after taking over from Dr Manmohan Singh in New Delhi with jibe like ‘Congress Mukt Bharat.’
If we go by decline in net percentage of Indian defense deal with Russia, then we would get some figures, which is alarming for Russia. When Narendra Modi took oath in 2014, India used to do near 84 percent of its defense shopping from Russia which has declined up to around 72 percent. In fact, in this period, India has increased its defense shopping in the US from 10 percent to around 14 percent. It has also opened defense shopping window in Israel, France and Germany. Actually, before Modi, India used to do defense deals with its all-weather-friend countries but after Modi, there is some tweak in Indian diplomacy. Now, India has started to make new friends through defense deals. So, India being a big defense market for Russia is probably one of the major reasons for Putin going out of turn to show warmth for Modi.
There is one more angle to it, which I think is playing one of the big role in Modi not feeling as comfortable with Russia as he is with countries like the US, France, Germany, Israel etc. Probably, Modi has a feeling that India and Russia have had a strong diplomatic bond for near 65-70 years. India under Pt. Nehru developed strong bi-lateral ties with Russia, which further prospered during Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure. When PV Narsimha Rao took over, the global political set-up had changed after the inception of WTO. So, Rao opened the Indian Embassy in Tel Aviv recognizing Israel as a sovereign nation. This policy was further followed during the NDA and UPA regime as the Manmohan Singh government decided to make it simple after Yasir Arafat’s death by sending a low key minister to his funeral. But, over the tenures of all these post Rajiv regimes, Russia was kept in good faith.
Since, entire Congress rule was under the control of Gandhi-Nehru family, Modi has a feeling that some moles in the Russian system might work as informers to the principal opposition party back home denying him the political mileage, which he aspires to attain in the coming polls. Hence, he is trying to nurture some new geo-political avenues where he can find some alternatives to Russia as these nations have remained alien to Indian diplomacy. His attempt to tap African Latin American nations should be seen through these specs. He doesn’t want to share any of his moves with the opposition and hence he is not as warm to Russia as Russia is towards Narendra Modi.