US Arm Twisting

India succumbs to US pressure on Iran


Behind the high pitched election carnival, that saw the political discourse stooping to a new low; and Modi returning with even a greater majority, foreign policy of India took another turn. Under the US pressure and also a bit of arm twisting, New Delhi caved in and fully stopped import of the Iranian crude oil. This marks India's complete capitulation to US diktat and has made the country sacrifice it's hitherto proclaimed independent foreign policy, a thing of the past. India is now no better than those several countries whose foreign policy is nothing but an extension of US geopolitical strategy.

India and Iran have shared cordial relations, and Iran was one of the few Muslim countries that had mostly sided with India. But after the policy of Liberalisation, India has been eager to side with the US, in all major geostrategic endeavors. Increasingly, the once vocal Indian foreign policy made way to a subdued meek diplomacy, where on most of the vital global event, New Delhi shunned to take a decisive stand and even in events where it participated it washed its hands by utilising diplomatic phrase mongering. This change, that was both subtle in nature and confirming to the wishes of US, had a major impact on the international arena. India since 1990s, is not considered as an active international player, nor is seen as a power to be consulted in matters of global diplomacy. The subsequent governments have turned the country into a market, where only trade and commerce is to be discussed. Indian diplomacy is seen to be more active in Davos than in United Nations. This policy of increasingly withdrawing from contentious issues and only being bothered by trade, paid off particularly during the period immediately after the end of Cold War, when US hegemony was unchallenged and unipolar world order was increasingly being evident.

However, since last decade particularly with the rise of China and resurgence of an assertive Russia, the hegemony of US is increasingly being challenged, with US seen on several fronts buckling under the economic might of China and military might of Russia, as seen in the Syrian strife as well as in the ongoing crisis of    Venezuela.

But Iran is a different story, where New Delhi could not enact its evasive policy, that it had been using for other global events. Iran has been the third largest supplier of crude oil after Iraq and Saudi Arabia accounting for almost 12 percent of its total import. India bought approximately 24 million tonnes of crude oil from Iran in the fiscal ended March 31 (2018-19) up from 22.6 million tonnes bought in 2017-18. [1]

Iranian oil was beneficial to India on several accounts. Due to close proximity between the two, transportation cost is significantly lower than the crude procured from other countries. Apart from the low transportation, Tehran also offered India lucrative trade terms that included free insurance and shipping, payment mode to be in rupee, even when it was in a spiral down deprecating mode as well as 60 days of credit line. These terms made the trade in favour of India. [2]

Apart, from trade Iran has much more to offer in terms of geostrategic interest. The Indian ambition of having a footstep in Central Asia and Eurasian region passes through Iran. If Indian trade is to expand in that region, it cannot be without taking Iran into its fold. India had invested almost 150 million USD in developing the Chabahar port that was to be the launchpad for it into the central Asian region.

India is also party to a trilateral MOU with Iran and Afghanistan with plans to commit at least $21billion to developing the Chabahar-Hajigak corridor, including $85 million for Chabahar port development by India. This includes $150 million line of credit by India to Iran, $8 billion India-Iran MoU for Indian industrial investment in Chabahar Special Economic Zone, $11-billion for the Hajigak iron and steel mining project awarded to seven Indian companies in central Afghanistan, and $2 billion commitment to Afghanistan for developing supporting infrastructure including the construction of the Chabahar-Hajigaj railway line. [3]

Shia Iran has also acted as a bulwark against predominantly Sunni Pakistan barring few isolated incidents, and a vital flank against any future conflagration with Pakistan. With China featuring heavily in Pakistani economy and policy, Iran was the only countermeasure that India could rely upon, given equally close and vital place that Tehran has with Beijing.

Yet, Modi choose a different path; something that India had never done before. In the almost 4 decades of US sanction, India had always devised ways to circumvent them and continue it trade and diplomatic relations with it going. This is the first instance where the country has completely snapped its relations and joined the US bandwagon. Why Modi had to do so?

The answer lies in the way Indian business particularly the big conglomerates are dependent on US for their trade and other commercial interest. The major importer of crude was Reliance, which processed the crude oil in its processing plant in Gujarat. Reliance due to its multiple business interest in US and also having strategic partnership with US companies as well as with companies having interest in US, cannot afford to antagonise US, nor can it oppose the sanctions. In fact how much dependent are the Indian big capitalists on US are becoming more pronounced day by day.

Apart from US the only other country that wants a weaker Iran or even a regime change there is Israel. Iranian support to Hezbollah in Lebanon has been a constant headache for it. Hezbollah along with the Iranian supported groups in Syria actively sided with the Assad regime and they have potential to drag Israel again in an escalated Middle East conflict, as well as giving new lease of life to various Palestinian armed groups, in West Bank and Gaza. Since coming of Modi, India has been actively partnering with Israel in civil military area. India had been shunning the Palestinian movement for homeland in favour of Israel, something that became official during Modi's regime. Today the regime in both the countries share several common worldview including similarity in religious, economic and ideological policy.

Israel had been a close ally and depends virtually on US for its existence and Modi's India is eager to join the US camp at all cost, even if it means jettisoning old allies and subsuming its own strategic interest to that of US.

The massive number of military and civil trade partnership that have been signed with Israel are mostly led by entities whose owners are known for their close proximity with the current Prime Minister. Hence in such backdrop it would have been unthinkable for the government to take an independent stance on Iran and become a party to such massive losses for the business conglomerates that have been assiduously supporting the ruling party with their lavish funds and all other kinds of support in moulding the public image for the regime. Adani's industrial group as well as Anil Ambani have signed several strategic deals with Israeli defence companies, for purchasing goods from the latter. Both the industrial conglomerates have also inked pacts on undertaking massive investment in Israel in multifarious areas, hence at this juncture any rupture with Israel would have dealt a heavy blow to these as well as several other industrial houses, something that Modi could not afford. Israel India relation today seems nothing more than a commercial venture, with the former having wherewithal and the latter deep pocket and an untapped market. Further Israel with its disproportionate influence that it exerts over the White House, is seen by the mandarins of Indian external affairs as an easy launchpad for it coming into US camp and fulfilling the long cherished dream of becoming a regional hegemon and also to counter Chinese influence. Though, the turn of events during the last few years points to the fact that Chinese suzerainty is growing and India is nowhere near to counter it.

When business interest takes precedence, then foreign affairs becomes of secondary importance. Today, in India the interest of some crony capitalists has become the national interest. When the prime minister himself has donned the hat of being the sales representative then talk of strategic policy for furthering of national interest becomes a hollow day dream.

With the complete stop of Iranian oil and its open declaration of kowtowing to the US imperialist dictum, India in short run has lost another potential ally. Iran is seen to be gravitating towards Pakistan over Afghan issue, and Imran Khan is also reciprocating this gesture. He recently visited Tehran and both the leaders have expressed their intention to work   together.

China on the other hand along with Russia has come openly in support of Iran, after it's initial hesitation, it declared that it would continue to purchase oil and the Sino Iranian trade would not be deterred by the sanction. The Iran Press website reported, "On the same day that Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif traveled to Beijing for talks on "regional and international issues," the Chinese oil tanker PACIFIC BRAVO began traveling eastward, having loaded approximately 2 million barrels of Iranian oil from the Soroosh and Kharg terminals".

It seems that the current logjam with Iran would continue and even the possibility of a low intensity conflict cannot be ruled out. US is also well aware of the fact that Iran is no Libya nor is Syria, the government though controlled by a group of reactionary religious bigots, still commands support of average Iranians and the current US policy would only empower it more. The democratic movement of reforms would endure severe casualty if there is a conflict, and the fundamentalist regime would only become stronger.

Iran after the revolution and the usurpation of power by the Islamic clerics, had taken strong measure to crush the Leftist and progressive forces. Today the once powerful Communist movement is all but gone and the Communists faced mass suppression and even deaths in the hands of the clerics. At that end one cannot support the current regime, but at the same time one also cannot support the US imperialism.

As far as India is concerned it seems to be a net looser, it has not only succumbed to US imperialism, but has also lost chance to secure a strategic ally. Once entrenched into the imperialist camp, it would have to forego its defence ties with Russia sooner than later. The indications for which have started also, it has been reported that Trump is pressurising it to cancel its multibillion S-400 deal as well as further opening of Indian market to American goods.

All in all it is now a matter of fact that India under Modi has become a junior partner of US imperialist camp, a satellite state whose impact would be felt in future.


[The author is a left activist and editor of website. Other Aspect]

Vol. 51, No. 50, Jun 16 - 22, 2019