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India’s tightrope geopolitical walk: The way forward

Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India

The world has passed through immense turmoil and turbulence over the last few years.

The Covid-19 pandemic which hit the world at the beginning of 2020 was the worst health crisis to have befallen the global community in more than one century, the last calamity of such magnitude having been the Spanish flu in 1919. The pandemic resulted in serious adverse consequences for all countries in the world in health, both physical and mental, economic and social spheres. Because of the intense and sustained lockdowns over extended periods, most countries suffered huge job losses and decline in their GDPs and earning capacities of their populations.

Even before the world was able to come to terms with the pandemic, it was struck by the impact of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Although the war is taking place in a relatively small area in Central Europe, it has led to the death of several thousands, and destruction of multi-storied buildings, hospitals, schools and other infrastructure in Ukraine, and displacement of about 8 million Ukrainian women and children from their homes. They are living as refugees in neighbouring countries. In addition, the war has resulted in disruption of supply chains, acute global shortages of food, energy and fertilizers, steep inflation, job-losses and soaring debt in many countries. Developing countries have been the most adversely affected by these crises.

India’s Response

On account of the bold and independent policies, both domestic and foreign, pursued by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, India has been successful in dealing relatively effectively with the challenges posed by these crises.

The Pandemic

Although India’s economy suffered a huge decline of 6.8% in 2020-21 because of the protracted lockdowns, it was able to more than adequately redress this shortfall over the next two years. Because of the visionary policies of financial inclusion, digital payment infrastructure, digital identity, food grain support for more than 800 million people, and many more far-reaching decisions adopted by the government, India has been able to emerge with a GDP of $3.5 trillion and an economy which is the fifth largest in the world. It is expected to become the 3rd largest economy after displacing Germany and Japan by the end of the decade or early next decade. On the health front, not only was India able to manufacture the Covishield vaccine in collaboration with Oxford AstraZeneca as soon as it became available around the end of 2020, but was also able to invent its own Covaxin vaccine so that the nationwide vaccination programme could take off with a bang across the country for front-line workers on 16th January, 2021. Four days after that, India launched its Vaccine Maitri (Vaccine Friendship) initiative to supply millions of doses of vaccines to its neighbours and other countries, mostly developing nations, for starting the vaccination of their own vulnerable populations.

In the middle of confronting this once in a century challenge, India also had to face the incursion of about 50,000 Chinese troops with heavy weaponry on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in violation of the long-standing bilateral agreements to maintain peace and tranquility on the border. India lost twenty of its brave soldiers in a violent clash at the Galwan valley in June, 2020, the first casualties on the LAC in 45 years. The forward deployment and standoff between the Indian and Chinese forces at the LAC recently entered its fourth year!

Russia-Ukraine conflict

On the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, India has adopted a balanced and principled stand. In all its pronouncements at the UN Security Council of which it was a non-permanent member till December last year and in the UN General Assembly, India has strongly espoused the principles of the UN Charter and the imperative need to safeguard the territorial integrity and sovereignty of member states. However, keeping in view its historical relations with Russia and its heavy dependence on it for meeting its defence requirements and spares, India has abstained from directly condemning Russia for its aggression (although PM Modi did tell President Putin on the sidelines of the SCO Summit in Samarkand in September, 2022 that ‘’this is not an era of war’’). India has consistently and staunchly advocated the path of diplomacy, dialogue and peace.

The twin crises of the pandemic and the war have led to huge shortages and rise in prices of energy worldwide. On account of India’s acute dependence to the tune of more than 85% of its requirement of crude oil and 45% of natural gas on imports, India significantly increased its imports of oil and fertilizers at concessional rates from Russia over the last several months. This decision has been necessitated for India to provide energy at affordable prices to its population and to safeguard its energy security and national interest. India has firmly stood by its conscientious stance in spite of the enormous pressure by the West, including the US, to change its position. Because of the unwavering and well-argued stand adopted by India, the West has grudgingly accepted the merit of India’s rationale. This has helped India to sustain its time-tested partnership with Russia which is critical for it for geo-strategic as well as economic reasons. Although Russia’s dependence on and embrace of China has been getting tighter on account of the inimical ties of both these countries with the west, particularly USA, it is imperative for India to maintain robust ties with Russia to balance its contentious ties with China, to some extent if not completely.

India-US Relations

In the midst of the above-mentioned rapid geopolitical flux, India’s relations with the United States and other major powers of the West are expanding at a rapid pace. Over the last eight years, the US has emerged as India’s most significant and consequential partner. It is India’s largest trading partner with bilateral trade of US$192 billion last year. Both countries enjoy a comprehensive, global, strategic partnership covering almost all areas of human endeavour, driven by shared democratic values, convergence of interests on a range of issues, and vibrant people-to-people contacts. They interact regularly and frequently in the more than 60 bilateral Dialogue Mechanisms covering a multitude of areas spanning education, renewable energy, cyber-security, counter-terrorism, high technology, trade, S&T, Space, health and many more. India’s active engagement with the Quad comprising of Australia, India, Japan and USA has significantly expanded the mandate of this Grouping and transformed it into a ‘’Force for Global Good.’’ The two countries instituted a 2+2 Annual Ministerial Dialogue Mechanism between the Defence and Foreign Ministers of the two countries in 2018. The fourth meeting in this format took place in 2022. Both PM Modi and President Biden have committed to significantly expand the bilateral partnership in over-arching political, security, economic, commerce, defence and strategic spheres. The two leaders have met frequently in recent months and are scheduled to meet often in the coming months including in the US, Japan, Australia and India. Both leaders have invested considerable political capital to take the bilateral partnership to new heights.

Relations with Japan, Australia, France

India’s relations with Japan, Australia, France and other members of the West continue to grow rapidly. The positive state of bilateral ties can be assessed from the fact that Prime Ministers of Japan and Australia visited India on bilateral tours recently. They will be coming to India again for the G20 Summit in September, 2023. PM Modi will be travelling to both Japan and Australia for the G7 and Quad Summits respectively in the very near future. On the invitation of French President Macron, he will be attending the French National Day on 14th July in Paris as the Guest of Honour.

Presidency of G20 and Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)

India assumed the Presidency of the prestigious G20 and SCO for the current year. It has taken a number of unique initiatives in both these Organizations to make their deliberations and decisions more effective and relevant. In the G20, India organized a Voice of the Global South Summit so that the concerns of developing countries could receive full attention. It also decided to make the G20 into a mass movement in India by organizing 200 meetings in 59 cities all across the country. For the SCO, India has proposed that in addition to the Delhi Declaration, Four Documents on De-Radicalization, Millets, Lifestyle for environment (LiFE) and Digitization be adopted at the Summit in July, 2023.


The world is undergoing a momentous transformation. Nothing like this has been witnessed since the Second World War more than 75 years ago. This geopolitical churn presents immense challenges as well as huge opportunities for India. In the midst of this swirl, a New India is emerging which is Confident, Resolute and Benevolent. India has surfaced as a partner of choice for most countries of the world. Its participation and contribution is considered indispensable to seeking solutions to some of the most critical challenges like climate change, terrorism, health, achieving the SDGs etc. confronting the world.

To occupy its rightful place in the global community, India’s economy needs to grow at a sustained pace of 8-10% for the next 20 years. It also needs to ensure peace and stability domestically as well as on its borders. In this context, China will continue to be India’s most formidable challenge for the foreseeable future. A rapidly growing economy, internal peace, a nimble-footed policy of multi-alignment and strategic partnerships with USA, the Quad and other like-minded countries will stand it in good stead in meeting the challenges it faces and advancing its interests.

(Ashok Sajjanhar is a former Ambassador of India to Kazakhstan, Sweden and Latvia. He is an Executive Council Member at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis and President, Institute of Global Studies. Views expressed are personal and exclusive to India Narrative)