Modi in Wonderland

Many political observers see in Modi’s much hyped US visit an end to non-alignment. In truth the idea of non-alignment died long ago. For one thing, non-alignment is a misnomer. It is also a kind of alignment with some delicate balancing act. Even during the initial stage of non-alignment movement when the Nehru-Nasser-Nkrumah syndrome mattered in international diplomacy though marginally, the balance of non-aligned strategy tilted towards the Soviet Union. India was never against America; it never took any positive stand against America’s barbarity in third world countries. New Delhi’s role in America’s Vietnam War was anything but opportunistic. Even Nehru didn’t hesitate to take help from CIA after India-China border conflict in 1962. He allowed Americans to install surveillance equipment in the Himalayas. After the collapse of USSR, India has been desperately trying to diversify its defence purchases while maintaining its precarious relationship with Moscow. And dependence on Soviet Russia cannot be eased so easily because America won’t provide veto on Kashmir.

No doubt in recent years India’s strategic shift towards America has gathered momentum and it is more explicit than before. Washington is slowly but steadily integrating India in its geo-political orbit with the sole purpose of encircling China and curtailing Russian influence on Indian polity. With Afghanistan gone America has reasons to abandon its traditional age-old lackey Pakistan, at least partially, only to give some breathing space to India.

This time the White House policy makers placed extra-ordinary importance to Modi’s state visit. Modi became just the third world leader after France’s Macron and South Korea’s Yoon Suk Yeol, to receive the grandiose diplomatic reception from President Joe Biden.

Modi has visited the US many times—most recently for a three-day visit in September2021 but this was the first time the Prime Minister’s trip was categorised as the highest ranking visit. The last state visit to the US by an Indian leader was by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in November 2009. The Biden administration hopes it can court Modi’s India as a crucial ally to counter China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

Despite India’s inclusion into Quad, how far India can serve America’s interests in the Indo-Pacific area is anybody’s guess. Congress Party’s allegation that Modi remained silent over China’s incursion into Ladakh was not without reason. Modi refused to acknowledge Chinese aggression as claimed by the Congress. In other words Modi is not going to commit another 1962 blunder. Russian support won’t come in case of a bloody border conflict with China while America’s help won’t be decisive despite the euphoria over Modi-Biden meet generated in Indian media. It’s unlikely that Modi will be able to do much for the Bidens in the Indo-Pacific, notwithstanding joint military exercises and diplomatic sabre-rating.

One thing is certain: American military-industrial complex is going to gain a lot from what they call Modi’s historic visit. Quite logically there will be decrease in military cooperation with Russia. Right now India’s more than 45 percent defence materials come from Russia. The second and third largest trade partners in defence sector are France and Israel. India imports just 11 percent of its defence equipments from America. America’s defence industry is trying to capture Russia’s captive defence market in India. Defence deal apart, New Delhi and Washington have been engaged in discussions about jointly producing jet engines, long range artillery and military vehicles.

In May India joined 14-member Indo-Pacific Economic Framework which primarily aims to reduce China’s economic dominance through manufacturing, but without drawing out a formal trade agreement. Now, American Company General Electric is hoping to co-produce military jets in the country while the US has increased investment in a semi-conductor and chip manufacturing ecosystem set in India as a way to decrease dependence on Chinese manufacturing facilities. In the field of semiconductors and chip manufacturing India is a big player right now as huge iPhone shipments from Indian-based factories in recent months suggest.

Very recently Reuters reported that India was inching closer to buying more than two dozen US made armed drones worth $2 to $3 billion to help enhance border surveillance and improve counter-terrorism intelligence operations. The cheer leaders of Modi are hoping to get ‘more US dollars, more US companies and more US entrepreneurs to make India a central part of their expansion plans’.

Increased military and business cooperation with America is a signal of India, somewhat overtly, moving into western camp and simultaneously reducing cooperation with Russia though officially India still claims strategic autonomy in diplomacy.

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Vol 56, No. 2, Jul 9 - 15, 2023