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Rahul Gandhi’s over the top attack on India’s foreign policy shocks parliamentarians

Congress MP Rahul Gandhi speaks in Lok Sabha during the Budget Session of Parliament (ANI photo/Sansad TV)

In a passionate (some call it frenzied) speech in the Lok Sabha on February 2, Rahul Gandhi, the Congress MP from Kerala, charged that India is isolated in the world.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

India’s relations today with most of the world barring a few countries are better than they have ever been. Over the last eight years, India’s profile and stature in the world has grown considerably and its voice on all major international issues is heard with respect.

 A quick look at some of India’s strategic and significant partnerships would illustrate the above.

Ties with US: The United States today is the most important and valuable partner for India for several reasons. India and United States enjoy a comprehensive, global, strategic partnership, covering almost all areas of human endeavour, driven by shared democratic values and convergence of interests on a range of issues including security and defence, trade and investment, pushback against Chinese expansionism, renewable energy, sharing of intelligence and several more.

India’s relations with the US over the last 8 years have continued to grow and expand. PM Modi shared warm and mutually-beneficial relations with Barack Obama during his tenure as President of the US. The two leaders officially and formally met nine times during the two- and- a -half years that overlapped between the terms of PM Modi and President Obama. These included 3 state visits by the two leaders to each other’s countries. President Obama became the first US President to attend India’s Republic Day celebrations as the Chief Guest in 2015 and also the first US President to visit India twice during his tenure.

Doubts were expressed whether the same warmth and bonhomie in bilateral ties would continue when Donald Trump became President in 2017. However, Trump’s tenure saw bilateral ties touching new heights. The Quad and Indo-Pacific initiatives were launched. US defence supplies of sophisticated high technology equipment to India increased. US shared real-time intelligence with India during the confrontation with China on the Eastern Ladakh border. At least in the initial stages, the US pushed back strongly against Pakistan for its support to the Taliban and terrorism.

At the change-over to Biden in January, 2021, many analysts felt that India-US bilateral ties will stagnate or deteriorate because of the seemingly close personal ties that had existed between President Trump and PM Modi. Moreover, during the presidential election campaign, several segments of the US Democratic Party had made adverse comments on India’s domestic issues like the CAA, NRC, abrogation of Article 370 etc. All these doubts proved to be imaginary.

PM Modi did not miss a step and took off with President Joe Biden where he had left Trump. Both leaders had several telephonic conversations before and after swearing in of President Biden. The visit by PM Modi to Washington DC for a bilateral meeting with Biden and for the first in-person Quad (Australia, India, Japan, USA) Summit in September, 2021 was an unqualified success. Range and scope of India-US strategic ties have continued to expand robustly over the past eight years.

Relations with Russia: Similar is the case with India’s relations with its other strategic partner Russia. India upgraded its ties with Russia to the level of special and privileged strategic partnership in 2010. Over the last few years, it was being suggested that India’s ties with Russia were suffering because of its increasing closeness to the US and its strong espousal and membership of the Quad and the Indo-Pacific. These apprehensions have proved to be unfounded.

PM Modi was invited by President Putin as the Chief Guest to the International Economic Forum in St Petersburg in 2017, and also to the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok in 2019. President Putin travelled to India for the 21st bilateral Summit in December, 2021. On account of the challenges of increasing Covid-19 infections in his country and the growing tensions with Ukraine, Putin could be in India for a few hours but he sent out a strong message about the special relationship with India by investing considerable time, effort and energy to travel to India for the Summit interaction. This was only the second visit by Putin outside Russia over the last two years since the Covid-19 pandemic erupted, the first one having been to Geneva in June, 2021 to meet President Joe Biden.

During the Summit in New Delhi, bilateral ties were upgraded by launching a 2+2 format of discussions between the Foreign and Defence Ministers of the two countries and by extending the Defence Agreement for a further period of ten years. On the issue of Afghanistan, Putin called PM Modi on August 24, 2021, immediately after the military capture of Kabul by the Taliban on August 15 and agreed to establish a ‘’bilateral private channel’’ to promote peace and security in that country.

India continues to buy sophisticated military equipment like the S-400 air defence missile system from Russia, notwithstanding the threat of CAATSA by the US. In April 2019, Russia decorated PM Modi ‘’with the Order of St Andrew the Apostle – the highest state decoration of Russia – for exceptional services in promoting special and privileged strategic partnership between the Russian Federation and the Republic of India and friendly relations between the Russian and Indian peoples."

Neighbourhood First: Relations with India’s neighbours are much stronger and vibrant than they were when PM Modi assumed power in 2014. He launched the ‘’Neighbourhood First’’ policy by inviting all heads of state/government of SAARC countries and the Prime Minister of Mauritius to his swearing in ceremony on 26th May, 2014. In 2019, leaders of all BIMSTEC countries and the President of Kyrgyzstan (as the then Chair of SCO) and the PM of Mauritius (who was the Chief Guest at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in 2019) were invited. Several new initiatives have been taken to strengthen ties with the neighbours. Some of these include the unanimous ratification of the Land Boundary Agreement with Bangladesh, launch of the South Asian satellite as a gift to South Asian countries, expeditious implementation of bilateral infrastructure projects in Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Maldives, Myanmar etc.

At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, in the spirit of ‘’Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’’ and in keeping with its status as the ‘’Pharmacy of the World,’’ India went all the way to help its neighbours and countries farther away with medicines and medical equipment like paracetamol, HCQ, masks, PPEs etc. to equip them to deal robustly with the pandemic. Similarly, following the vision of ‘'One Earth, One Health’' propounded by PM Modi, India started sharing its vaccines with the outside world within 4 days of the commencement of its own vaccination drive. Bhutan and Maldives became the first countries to receive 150,000 and 100,000 vaccines respectively. Bangladesh and Nepal came next. Myanmar, Seychelles, Mauritius, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan followed soon thereafter. Although India has not recognized the Taliban dispensation in Kabul since it took over power by force on 15th August, 2021, it has not hesitated to provide essential medicines including additional 500,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines and about 4 tons of life-saving drugs and equipment as humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. All these items were supplied by air via Dubai and Iran as Pakistan did not allow use of its territory for overland transit to Afghanistan, which would have been shorter and quicker. 

Supplies of vaccines were welcomed with deep gratitude by the recipient countries. Bhutan's PM applauded ‘’the gesture that signifies compassion and generosity of PM Modi, and people of India for the wellbeing of humanity." Bangladesh health minister said that India had stood by Dhaka during the Liberation War of 1971 as well as the pandemic. Nepalese PM thanked PM Modi and the Indian government for the “generous grant..at this critical time when India is rolling out vaccination for its own people.” Farther away, the Brazilian President thanked PM Modi with a picture of Lord Hanuman bringing the holy '’Sanjeevani’'. Prime Minister of Dominica said after receiving the COVID19 vaccines: “I must confess that I did not imagine that the prayers of my country would be answered so swiftly." United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres termed India’s vaccine production capacity as the “best asset” the world has to fight the pandemic. Several others spoke appreciatively of the selfless manner in which India helped several developing countries with the vaccines.

India’s Membership of the UN Security Council (UNSC): India was elected to the non-permanent membership of the UNSC in June, 2020, receiving 184 out of the 192 votes polled. If anything, this is not the mark of a country that is isolated in the world. On the contrary, it is indicative of the respect and admiration in which the world holds India.

A quick look at India’s Presidency of the UNSC in August, 2021would be illustrative.  India identified maritime security, peace-keeping and counter-terrorism as key issues for special debates during its presidency. Discussions on Maritime Security in different UN fora had been scheduled earlier but could not take place due to the high sensitivity of the issue.

PM Modi decided to chair the Session on Maritime Security on 9th August, becoming the first Indian Prime Minister to conduct a UNSC meeting. Russian President Putin attended the deliberations. The last time Putin attended such a discussion was in 2005! The month of August also witnessed the forcible assumption of power in Kabul by the Taliban. This put a huge onus on the Indian Presidency. India proved equal to the challenge. It presided over several discussions on the evolving situation and crafted Resolution 2593 which has come to represent the consensus view of the global community on actions that Taliban must take in the governance of Afghanistan.

The competent and deft manner with which India built consensus even amongst opposing parties during its Presidency significantly added to its prestige and influence.

Conclusion: In addition to the above, several other major initiatives have been taken by India in recent years through launch of the Western Quad comprising of India, Israel, UAE and USA; reinforcing the Quad partnership; hosting the first India-Central Asia Summit, the Delhi Regional Security Dialogue and the Third India-Central Asia Dialogue which brought India center-stage to developments in Afghanistan; launch of the International Solar Alliance and Coalition of Disaster Resilient Infrastructure; several ambitious decisions in combating Climate Change etc. All these have enhanced India’s global influence and sway.

From the above it is amply clear that India’s stature and influence in the world has risen significantly over the last several years rather than the other way round. The only argument that Rahul Gandhi could advance to support his contention was that there was no Chief Guest at India’s Republic Day for the last two years. Surely, he is not unaware of the havoc and devastation that Covid-19 has caused in the world over the last two years. Making such an argument is both callow and farcical. It is regrettable that to score cheap political points, Rahul Gandhi jumped into the domain of national security, to the glee of India’s adversaries.

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