The India-US 2+2 dialogue that took place earlier this week and the virtual meeting between President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Narendra Modi was supposed to be an opportunity for the US to lean on India to change its position on the Russia-Ukraine war. It was widely expected that India would come under pressure from the US; the meeting, joint statement and the statements of External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken at their joint press conference were parsed carefully by experts and the diplomatic community for any hints of such pressure or change in India’s position. But there were none. What was on show, however, was an articulate and firm exposition of India’s independent foreign policy. India not only held its position but also seems to have convinced the US to accept its position on Russia, at least for now. There was no mention of Russia in the joint statement which only referred to the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, called for an immediate end to hostilities and condemned civilian deaths.
The substantive parts of the dialogue reflected in the joint statement are encouraging. The underlining of cooperation between the two countries for a “free, open and inclusive” Indo-Pacific and the references to their commitment to the Quad kept the focus on the core strategic interests of the two countries. The US’s intent to reduce India’s dependence on Russia in the defence domain reflected in the joint statement stressing on collaboration in science and technology in the US-India Joint Technical Group (JTG) and facilitating exchange of information in real time between the two militaries. The private industry collaboration under US-India Defense Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI), including a project agreement to co-develop Air-Launched UAVs too is significant. The mention of 26/11 Mumbai and Pathankot attacks and call for their perpetrators to be brought to justice and a joint demand for Pakistan to take “immediate, sustained, and irreversible action” to ensure that no territory under its control is used for terrorist attacks is a validation of the Indian position.
But the most significant part was reserved for the last when Jaishankar articulated the Indian position at the joint press conference with more than a show of defiance and barely concealed irritation at the West’s evident attempts to arm-twist India. The “our total purchases (from Russia) in a month would be less than what Europe does in an afternoon” comment on India’s oil purchases was a sharp rebuke to not just the reporter who raised the question but to those in the American policy establishment as well. The Foreign Minister later proceeded to counter Blinken’s mention of human rights abuses in India by reminding him of similar instances in the US. “I can tell you that we will not be reticent about speaking out,” he said. The cadence and tenor of India’s articulation of its independent stand is firm and defiant. What is even more significant is that its agenda is being pushed ahead without disturbing partnerships in the new global order, be it with Russia or with the US.