The Cold War is long over, Russia and China are allies and the United States has given up trying to play Beijing against Moscow. Tragically, Yugoslavia is no more, ‘Nasserist’ Egypt is a shadow of its former self and Indonesia lacks the leadership it had during the second half of the 20th century.
Yet there is one country which still behaves as though it is a stalwart of the Non-Aligned Movement even though the very nature of being non-aligned has changed. In many respects, bodies like the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation have helped to unite the allies of the two great adversarial Communist powers of the Cold War, the USSR and China with many countries which had previously been non-aligned.
Of all the countries that were members of the Non-Aligned Movement, Cuba and India were the least ‘non-aligned’. In reality, Cuba was a prominent ally of the Soviet Union throughout the Cold War. The importance owed more to Cuba’s geographical proximity to the United States than its military might. While Fidel Castro remained loyal to the USSR throughout the Cold War, he saw the Non-Aligned movement as a means of linking Cuba with many countries engaged in post-colonial struggle throughout Africa and parts of Asia.
India’s relationship with both the non-aligned movement and the Soviet Union came about for inverse reasons. Unlike Cuba, India was never a Communist country nor was India ever a formal member of any Soviet led grouping world-wide. That being said, India was among the Soviet Unions most important Asian allies along with Vietnam.
India’s first three decades of post-British independence witnessed a political balancing act between secular minded agrarian socialist policies balanced off by Hindu politics. During Jawaharlal Nehru’s period as Prime Minister (1947-1964), the course tended towards socialism while still informed by the Hindu traditions of the majority of India’s population.
In terms of Foreign Affairs, India was a firmly ally of the Soviet Union and relied of Soviet support in winning the 1971 war with Pakistan. Without Soviet support, India may well have lost the war.
Although India remained a stalwart of the Non-Aligned movement, New Delhi’s loyalties were clear and the United States realised this. Richard Nixon privately disparaged Indira Gandhi, once saying that she “suckered us”.
While Cuba was closed to American during the Cold War and indeed beyond, India was always open, but the relationship was largely a one way street. India’s loyalties were firmly with the USSR. Furthermore, while Cuba’s alliance with the USSR helped protect Cuba from NATO led ‘regime change’, India’s status as a Non-Aligned Soviet ally actually helped India to win wars and secure her independence during an era when many former British colonies continued to be molested by their former overlord; Egypt, North Yemen and Kenya being some famous examples.
Today’s post-cold war environment sees the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) uniting many of the leading countries of the two Communist blocs as well as the non-aligned movement. In addition to China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, this year both India and Pakistan joined the SCO . Iran will likely join in the very near future.
The SCO goes a long way in streamlining a partnership between old adversaries, though at times it seems that India’s current Prime Minister Narendra Modi is still trying to use the old Non-Aligned card to play various sides against others, even when the formal existence of such sides no longer exists.
Modi’s recent visit to Israel is a prime example of this. Realistically, India offers Israel no more or less than it would offer any nation in the wider Middle East, Africa or Asia. Likewise Israel cannot offer India anything that its old ally Russia and new Shanghai Cooperation Organisation partner China cannot. In this sense Israel offers far less. Even so, India and Israel could have agreed to various bilateral trade agreements without the song and dance of Modi’s generally gushing and overtly politicised visit to Israel. Whether he is aware of this or not, Modi’s visit has been used by Israel’s well-oiled propaganda machine to demonstrate that Israel’s friends are not exclusively in North America, Europe and some parts of the so-called ‘White British Commonwealth’.
What the visit does accomplish is ruining a great deal of India’s prestige in the Arab world and even the wider Asian Muslim world. India’s priority should be solving its own tensions with Pakistan which would also mean working to insure the rights of Indian Muslims at the same time.
Forgoing India’s traditionally neutral position in the Israel-Palestine conflict at a time when India should be working on building bridges of cooperation and trust with Islamabad is not only a bad strategic move but it is one that trades an opportunity to reconcile with China and Pakistan simultaneously via the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation for little in return. India if anything could have been called on to oversee a future Israel-Palestine peace deal but under Narendra Modi whose visceral dislike of Islam is now infamous, this is now all but impossible.
At a time when Pakistan is becoming ever more tired of its relationship with the US which earns Pakistan little in material terms and even less in terms of dignity and with Russia and China leading by example as two former Cold War adversaries who now form the 21st century’s most important geo-political alliance, India under Modi is playing side-games when it ought to focus on the bigger picture which means reconciliation with both China and Pakistan for the long-term economic prosperity of all Indian people.
Modi seems to be a man guided by a lust for outsmarting the world. One often wonders if he is really only outsmarting himself. His anti-Muslim rhetoric which is now having violent consequences on the streets of India, combined by his public displays of political affection for both the United States and Israel is not in the interests of the Indian people, not even the Hindutva base he represents and riles up.
India’s future is with a combination of long time friends (Russia) and former adversaries (China and Pakistan). Her future never was in the west or its allies like Israel, although nothing is procluding India from trading with such countries minus the geo-political overtones that Modi tends to revel in and which countries like the US and Israel are all too willing and able to exploit. Nixon talked about being “suckered” by Indira Gandhi. By extrapolation, can we now say that Narendra Modi is suckering himself?