By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.
Indian minister for external affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar continued to chart an independent multi-alignment policy for India in public remarks yesterday.
Jaishankar appeared at the Raisina Dialogue, a multilateral conference held annually in Delhi since 2016. The event is hosted by the Observer Research Foundation, an independent think tank,in collaboration with India’s ministry of external affairs, and according to India Today, ‘is known to be India’s flagship conference on geopolitics and geo-economics (see Shashi Tharoor thanks EAM Jaishankar for giving him credit at conference, posts selfie | See tweet).
Jaishankar, a career diplomat before being a member of the government, chooses his words carefully and comports himself with dignity (behavior no longer common nor expected in encounters between ministers from different sovereign states). Yet as became increasingly obvious since the shambolic U.S. pullout last summer from Afghanistan, followed by the announcement of the AUKUS security pact last September, and even moreso as India has attempted to steer a neutral course in policies towards the US and Russia (in spite of repeated U.S. bullying), India’s no longer kowtowing to anyone. Verbally or otherwise.
As the Wire reports in ‘Rules-Based Order Has Been Under Stress Much Before Ukraine’: Jaishankar:
Indian external affairs minister S. Jaishankar said on Tuesday that Europe’s invocation for global unity in protecting the rules-based order in the wake of the Russian invasion in Ukraine is selective, with no such visible outrage when Afghanistan was “thrown under the bus” or in the face of other geopolitical challenges in Asia.
There’s a lot packed into that paragraph and for those readers who’ve not read my previous posts on India’s recent Russia policy, please start here. India’s policy is important, and it’s not being properly covered in the western mainstream medai; I’ve not yet seen attempts to assume a perspective that seeks to explain exactly what India is trying to do and the context – historical, economic, politica, and otherwise – for its so doing. So, for interested readers who might have missed these earlier posts, here they are, in order): India Is Mulling Rupee-Ruble Payments System for Trade with Russia India: Pursuing its National Interest in the Multipolar World; and External Affairs Minister Jaishankar: India Has Concerns About U.S. Human Rights Record. (If you only have time to read one post, I’d recommend reading the second).
The Wire’s account observes that although those who attended the Raisina Dialogue hailed from across the world, the Europeans in attendance were overwhelmingly pre-occupied with Ukraine. Per The Wire:
The veteran foreign minister of Luxembourg Jean Asselborn asked Jaishankar about the justification furnished by the Russian foreign minister during his visit to India last month. He noted that Russia had claimed that its actions were to prevent genocide and to ‘de-Nazify’ Ukraine. “How does he explain it to you… everything that Russia is doing in Ukraine is against international law and the charter of the United Nations?” Asselborn asked.
Jaishankar replied that he didn’t have anything new to contribute, as Lavrov would have “probably engaged more of you in Europe on the subject than he has engaged us”.
It ’s also clear to me that Jaishankar understands exactly what’s at stake for the world order and the world economy – whereas it is by no means apparent that most all U.S. public officials and many of their European lackeys don’t seem to grasp many elements of basic reality. According to The Wire:
He noted that there “will be no winner in this conflict”, with the knock-on effect of the war impacting every corner of the planet in terms of higher energy prices and food inflation.
As to what’s necessary, a way must be found back to the negotiating table. Over to The Wire::
“Our position is that we all have to find some way of returning to diplomacy and dialogue, and for that, the fighting must stop. I think that is the focus of what we are trying to do,” he said.
But crucially, and remember, the Raisina Dialogue was occurring in Asia, specifically in the Indian capital, Delhi. Per The Wire:
He further pointed out that the Ukraine crisis would naturally pre-occupy Europe at this time “to the exclusion of almost everything else, but there is also a world out there”. “I am very glad that you are sitting in India because it would remind you that there are equally pressing issues in other parts of the world.”
Alluding that European concern about disruptions to rules-based order before Ukraine had been spotty, he said, “In terms of Afghanistan, please show me which part of the rules-based order justified what the world did there. So, let’s see this in the right context.” [Jerri-Lynn here: my emphasis].
I also appreciated Jaishankar’s trade barb. He seems to be at least one world diplomat who apparently hasn’t imbibed the free trade Kool-Aid. And note that the Modi government in which he serves isn’t renowned for any socialist proclivities. According to The Wire:
He also claimed that when there had been friction with other countries in the region that threatened the rules-based order in Asia, the Europeans had a different counsel. “If I were to put those very challenges in terms of principle when rules-based order was challenged in Asia, the advice we got from Europe was ‘do more trade’. At least we are not giving you that advice,” Jaishankar said, which was greeted with applause among the audience.
Further, at least some of the diplomats present were aware of not-so-distant Indian history. According to The Wire:
The Filipino foreign minister Teodoro L. Locsin intervened that the question of opposing genocide should be asked of India in this context. “…you are talking of the country that sent an army to prevent the extinction of a people who would later become Bangladesh… this is India, the country that answers the call when people face genocide”.
Another important point, one well-known to Indians and Bangladeshis and which was pointed out by reader Fazal Majid in a comment on my India: Pursuing its National Interest in the Multipolar World post, citing India Times, When Russia Stunned US & UK Naval Forces And Helped India Win The 1971 War.
In brief, the U.S., the UK, and China all sided with (west) Pakistan in the 1971 war in which India weighed in on the side of (east) Pakistan, which achieved its independence as a result of that war and became known as Bangladesh. India’s timely invocation of a then-new arrangement with the USRR allowed it both to intervene and stop the genocide in east Pakistan/Bangladesh. Over to India Times:
On 3 December, Pakistan launched Operation Chengiz Khan, marking the official initiation of hostilities of the Indo-Pak war of 1971. The Indian response was a defensive military strategy in the western theatre while a massive, coordinated and decisive offensive thrust into the Eastern theatre. On 5 December, United States began attempts for a UN-sponsored ceasefire, which were twice vetoed by the USSR in the security council.
India extended her recognition of Bangladesh on 6 December.
On 8 December, Washington received intelligence reports that India was planning an offensive into West Pakistan.
It was in this situation that the United States dispatched a ten-ship naval task force, the US Task Force 74, from the Seventh Fleet off South Vietnam into the Bay of Bengal.
The task force was to be headed by USS Enterprise, at the time and still the largest aircraft carrier in the world.
The Enterprise weighing 75,000 tonnes was the largest nuclear-powered carrier in the world with 70 fighter aircraft. India’s Navy was led by the 20,000 tonne INS Vikrant with 20 fighter aircrafts.
At the same time, UK dispatched its aircraft carrier HMS Eagle in the Arabian Sea. If went according to the plan, India would be caught in ‘pincer’ attack. The US in Bay of Bengal, UK in the Arabian Sea, while Pakistan on land, India was caught.
The US and UK hoped that China would also attack India.
It quietly sent Moscow a request to activate a secret provision of the Indo-Soviet security treaty, under which Russia was bound to defend India in case of any external aggression.
To counter this two-pronged British-American threat, Russia dispatched a nuclear-armed flotilla from Vladivostok on December 13 under the overall command of Admiral Vladimir Kruglyakov, the Commander of the 10th Operative Battle Group (Pacific Fleet).
Though the Russian fleet comprised a good number of nuclear-armed ships and atomic submarines, their missiles were of limited range (less than 300 km). Hence, to effectively counter the British and American fleets the Russian commanders had to undertake the risk of encircling them to bring them within their target. This they did with military precision.
At this point, the Russians intercepted a communication from the commander of the British carrier battle group, Admiral Dimon Gordon, to the Seventh Fleet commander: “Sir, we are too late. There are the Russian atomic submarines here, and a big collection of battleships.” The British ships fled towards Madagascar while the larger US task force stopped before entering the Bay of Bengal.
The 1971 war is considered to be modern India’s finest hour, in military terms. The quick reaction of the Indian army, navy, and air force; a brass led by the legendary Sam Manekshaw; and ceaseless international lobbying by the political leadership worked well to set up the victory and liberation of Bangladesh.
Jerri-Lynn here. Given this not-so distant history, is it any surprise that India has tried to at minimum steer a middle course in the current Ukraine conflict? Now back to the present and Jaishankar’s statements at the Raisina Dialogue. Stick with me please,as I discuss Jaishankar’s important point about ‘precedence’ in international relations. Per The Wire:
Earlier, the Norwegian foreign minister Anniken Huitfeldt had described Russia’s action as an example of a “totalitarian state attacking a democracy”. “Indeed, many would say that Russia attacked Ukraine precisely because it is a democracy. How does India, as the world’s largest democracy, see its role in defending free societies globally?” she asked Jaishankar.
After reiterating India’s position on Ukraine, he stated, “The fact is that different countries have evolved a combination of values, interests, history, experience and culture to approach conflicts and specific situations. So, you spoke about Ukraine. I remember less than a year ago what happened in Afghanistan, where an entire civil society was thrown under the bus by the world. Or we in Asia, face our own threats or challenges, which often impacts on the rules-based order.
The former Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt wondered if Jaishankar could fathom whether China would get emboldened in Asia, if Beijing saw that there was no unity among the international community after the borders of a sovereign country were violated.
Jaishankar said that while he “honestly” could not answer the question, international relations “do not necessarily function by precedence”. “People don’t need to see something and say, ‘Aha, that’s what I am going to do!’ That’s how mostly bureaucracies function. But world affairs has a sort of a much more self-driven, self-calculating way of working. [Jerri-Lynn here: my emphasis.]
And then apparently, Jaishankar couldn’t resist debunking arguments he’s repeatedly heard emanating from Europe during the last few months:
Admitting a sense of frustration, the Indian minister added, “(Let me say) quite candidly, (that) we have been hearing for the last two months a lot of argument from Europe saying that things happening in Europe should worry (us) about it because these could happen in Asia.”
“Guess what, things have been happening in Asia for the last ten years. Europe may not have looked at it. So you know it could be a wake-up call for Europe, not just in Europe, but it could be a wake-up call for Europe to also look at Asia.”
He pointed out that in this region, “boundaries have not been settled, terrorism is practiced, often sponsored by states,” and the “the rules-based order has been under continuous stress for more than a decade”. [Jerri-Lynn here: my emphasis.]
The key takeaway, according to The Wire:
Europe’s invocation for global unity in protecting the rules-based order in the wake of the Russian invasion in Ukraine is selective, with no such visible outrage when Afghanistan was “thrown under the bus”, said EAM S. Jaishankar.
Thanks from Shashi Tharoor
And now onto another important point. Naked Capitalism readers, among others, have got themseves rather exercised after observing it’s the Modi government that is now stalwartly pursuing India’s multi-alignment policy [Jerri-Lynn here: my emphasis].
As if that fact alone might provide a reason to discount, dismiss, or question the policy outright.
A couple of things to note. First, as I wrote in India: Pursuing its National Interest in the Multipolar World:
“The Union government’s choice of Jaishankar as its foreign policy guru is just one example of Modi’s ability to choose the correct technocrats to implement his policy objectives,” said Dr. Sunandan Roy Chowdhury, editor-in-ihief of the Kolkata journal, Eastern Review.
So, to be sure, this is Modi policy. Yet it has been designed and is being implemented by the country’s foreign policy elite, with the support and assistance of career diplomats.
And a second, crucial point: support for Indian multi-alignment extends across the Indian political spectrum [Jerri-Lynn here: my emphasis].
In fact, I read it as no accident that Jaishankar himself this week publicly credited Shashi Tharoor for conceiving the multi-alignment idea. Tharoor, a prominent member of the Congress Party, is a writer, public intellectual, current member of the Lok Sabha from Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala since 2009, and former member of PM Manmohan Singh’s cabinet.
And Tharoor – a consummate political operator, and well-known prolific Twitter user – tweeted out the following
Thanks @DrSJaishankar for publicly giving me credit for the term “Multi-alignment“ which I floated 15 years ago gwithout many takers)! Stimulating exchange between our EAM & @samirsaran at #RaisinaDialogue2022 on the wider dimensions of our foreign policy pic.twitter.com/C76LgP2ptq
— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) April 26, 2022
Now, prior to returning to India 2007, Tharoor spent decades in the U.S, first earning at age 22 a doctorate in international relations from the Fletcher School of Diplomacy in Boston. Tharoor then worked his way up the ranks in the United Nations bureaucracy, eventually becoming under-secretary general. In 2006, the government of India nominated Tharoor to vie for the UN secretary general position.
Permit me to quote from Wikipedia here:
…Although all previous Secretaries-General had come from small countries, Prime Minister Manmohan Singhand National Security Advisor M. K. Narayanan felt that Tharoor’s candidacy would demonstrate India’s willingness to play a larger role at the United Nations.
Tharoor finished second, behind Ban Ki-moon of South Korea, in each of the four straw polls conducted by the UN Security Council. In the final round, Ban emerged as the only candidate not to be vetoed by one of the permanent members, while Tharoor received one veto from the United States. U.S. Ambassador John Bolton later revealed his instructions from Condoleezza Rice: “We don’t want a strong Secretary-General.” Tharoor was a protégé of the independently minded Kofi Annan, and a senior American official told Tharoor that the US was determined to have “No more Kofis.” After the vote, Tharoor withdrew his candidacy and declined Ban Ki-moon’s invitation to remain in service beyond the expiry of his term as Under-Secretary-General.
Jerri-Lynn here. Whip smart, with long and deep familiarity with the United States (and its pecularities), not to mention a national of one of the most populous, fastest-growing economies in the world? (And one still less obeisant to neo-liberalist principles than most other ‘advanced’ economies – recent history notwithstanding.) Of course, the Uncle Sam couldn’t allow any person with such qualities to become UN secretary-general. Think of the trouble he might cause!
The idea’s been floated that Tharoor might be a candidate to become India’s PM someday. These rumblings were much, much louder when Tharoor was first elected to the Lok Sabha , before a scandal involving an Indian Premier League (IPL) – cricket – franchise arose and forced his resignation from Singh’s cabinet. An even bigger obstacle might be the aftermath of the sudden death of his third wife, Sunanda Pushkar, after a loud twitter spat and accusations of adultery, followed by her being found dead in a ‘mysterious circumstance’ involving a prescription drug overdose at a Delhi Hotel. These events unfolded one week in January 2014 at the same time the annual Jaipur Literature Festival was underway.
This is a huge event, attended by hundreds of thousands of people, Indians and foreigners alike, including much of India’s literary and (public) intellectual elite (and associated wannabes and hangers on). I was there and I remember the riveting headlines, which began with back-and-forth tweets between the spouses, and culminated in Pushkar’s sudden death.
Anyway, allegations of murder were bandied about and, again according to Wikipedia:
…In May 2018, Tharoor was charged with abetting the suicide of his wife and marital cruelty under sections 306 and 498A of the Indian Penal Code. On 18 August 2021, a court in Delhi discharged Tharoor from all the charges.
I therefore think it unlikely that Tharoor could at this point be put forward as a credible candidate for PM of India (even granting the fairly heroic assumption that at some point that idea might have seemed to be a realistic possibility). And of course, the even larger barrier in the way of a Tharoor candidacy is what looks to be the inability of the Congress (Party) to forge a viable electoral coalition to allow the party once again seize the PM’s chair.
My point here is simply this: both Jaishankar and Tharoor are pros, and that side-by-side selfie signals, much more vividly than mere words alone could convey that the Indian political elite are united in support of multi-alignment for India.
So, I guess the next question is: India knows what it should do, and is indeed committed to a multi-alignment policy.
What will be the response of other lead players on the world stage to India’s actions?