India, Russian oil and Europe’s hypocrisy 

Thomas Sajan/Titto Idicula | Updated on: Jul 29, 2022
India-EU: Ties under strain

India-EU: Ties under strain | Photo Credit: Oleksii Liskonih

It has traditionally used the excuse of ‘upholding democracy’ to impose its will, while also deviating from these very principles 

After decades of relatively smooth sailing, India and the European nations now find themselves in a strained, uneasy relationship. New Delhi’s decision to buy the discounted oil from Russia following the Ukraine War was labelled in Europe as war profiteering and funding the Russian invasion in Ukraine.

There is a strong feeling throughout the West that India is taking advantage of “the pain that is being felt in European households”.

On her visit to New Delhi, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss urged India to “fully engage” as the world’s largest democracy. As a retaliatory response, the European Union has come up with an insurance ban on ships carrying Russian crude to the Asian ports; nearly 95 per cent of the tanker insurance market is dominated by Western players.

During the recent GlobeSec Bratislava Forum, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar pointed out that European nations, notwithstanding the introduction of a new package of sanctions, continue to buy Russian gas in large volumes. He accuses Europe for implementing sanctions against Russia in a way that is not traumatic to its economy, while denying the freedom and choice that exists for other oil-hungry developing countries.

Do Europe’s persuasions originate from a justified “ressentiment” over not obtaining India’s support during its worst security crisis since World War II, or being coercive in imposing its will on others?

Dual standards 

Europe has given birth to some of the greatest political frameworks worth emulating — liberal democracy, welfare state, human rights, rule of law, common currency, and open borders. However, Europe is not without skeletons in its closet of modernity.

Take the case of legendarily ‘neutral’ Switzerland located right in the heart of Europe. As beautiful as its nature, the direct democracy in Switzerland is one of the finest and most transparent political systems in the world. That, along with its nearly corruption-free government, brilliantly camouflages what lies in the huge vaults of their banks — black money accumulated from corrupt nations around the world. It is mesmerising to see how this little country holds almost one-third of the global offshore funds, without revealing their sources.

“Our government never refuses requests from a foreign country to release information about their citizens holding accounts in the Swiss banks, but that should not make them think that it will ever be released substantially” was what a Swiss citizen correctly responded during a casual conversation.

Notwithstanding the existence of a couple of treaties and agreements between India and Switzerland, including one for the automatic exchange of information in tax matters, very little progress have ever been made in tracking black money. The funds parked by Indians in various Swiss banks increased exponentially and reached a 14-year-high during the last two years, according to the annual data from Switzerland’s central bank released last month.

Like the Swiss government, the European Union invokes a curious double standard when it comes to vital issues. The non-inclusion of Muslim-majority Turkey in the secular EU, despite the inclusion of the geographically distant Cyprus, is perhaps the classic example. Former German chancellor Helmut Kohl brazenly stated, “EU is based on Christian principles and cannot accommodate countries that do not share this identity”.

The same basic duplicity can also be exemplified in the Italian marines’ case that occurred in India, a decade ago. On March 7, 2012, just a few days after two innocent Indian fishermen were shot dead by the Italian marines, the spokesperson for EU foreign policy Chief Catherine Ashton called for a “satisfactory solution” to the issue.

A year later, when the marines deviously declined to return to India after their parole in Italy, Ashton urges for a “common solution”. How can a ‘common solution’ be possible when one party hijacked the whole deal beyond any ‘satisfactory’ means of the other party?

It was only because of the timely, hard-hitting intervention of the Supreme Court of India that brought the marines back to India for the trial.

Moral high ground 

Curiously enough, Europe’s double standard toward ‘others’ is not the result of any conscious wickedness, but it emanates from a sense of heightened morality.

A good many of the ideas, events and institutions that changed human history had its origins in Europe. It is therefore natural for most Europeans to feel themselves to be the guardian angels of the modern world with certain “inherent” privileges. They often get time-locked in the glorious European past despite the changing global power equations.

The double standard, as seen in the case of India’s Russian oil imports, stems from Europe wanting to occupy the moral high ground. It is neither a justified concern over India’s strategic ambivalence towards Russia’s invasion, nor mere coercion.

Therein lies the core argument of Jaishankar: “Europe has to grow out of the mind-set that Europe’s problems are the world’s problems but the world’s problems are not Europe’s problems”.

What is noteworthy here is that the emerging global powers are no longer ready to buy the European “moral constructs” of the world.

Sajan is a social anthropologist trained in Norway; and Idicula is a consultant neurologist and an Associate Professor at NTNU, Norway

Published on July 29, 2022
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