India not taking sides in the Ukraine conflict has met with understanding from western governments but elements in the US foreign policy community continue to question its ‘neutrality’. The latest harangue is in an article in Foreign Affairs.

The West wants a rupture in India-Russia ties. Traditional friend India’s condemnation would politically isolate Russia more. India’s participation in the Russia-India-China, Brics and SCO fora that exclude the West and seek to promote multipolarity would become problematic. The division between ‘democracies’ and ‘autocracies’ would become neater politically if India, as the largest democracy, moved away from the groupings. India’s strategic autonomy built around its ability to maintain friendly ties with all powers will be constricted. With India-Russia military ties degraded, the US companies will benefit. This explains the

efforts to push India to condemn Russia.

The Foreign Affairs article should be seen in this background. To say India has “the last best chance” to become a great power by choosing the West over Russia assumes controlling power over India’s destiny. A false connection is made between the Russia-Ukraine and the India-China territorial issues. To claim that refusing to take a stand could alienate a powerful US is dismissive of the stand India has already taken in its national interest, which is not aligned with that of US to cause Russia’s economic collapse and bring about regime change.

To suggest that for the moment the US is ‘tolerating’ India’s neutral position but that its “patience is not endless” is to treat India as an errant child to be spanked if too troublesome.

That it is “so central to US efforts to counterbalance China that India will remain immune to a potential backlash” is not what Indian policy makers believe. They rely on America’s rational assessment of the geopolitical viability of its strategy of curbing China’s expansionism without India as an Indo-Pacific and Quad partner.

The argument that “India is something of an outlier among world’s democracies” on Ukraine is hypocritical. The US itself does not have a record of choosing India as a democracy over Pakistan and China. To claim that India has “even supported Moscow” by buying its oil is distorting facts. Importing 700,000 barrels a day in April meets only a very small portion of its one day requirements. Europe has imported about $23 billion of fossil fuels per month from Russia since the Ukraine conflict began. A sense of proportion is needed.

The US, the article says, will not increase “its transfer of sophisticated defence technologies to New Delhi” if India does not move towards non-Russian military supplies. The DTTI has been a damp squib so far. The expert visualises the US sanctioning India under CAATSA. If that happens it will be a long term blow to India-US ties.

India “curtailing dependence on Russian military gear” is projected as morally right. Is dependence on the US more moral? Talking of providing a $500 million Foreign Military Financing package to incentivise India to purchase US weapons demeans India whose defence budget is the third largest in the world.

To say that the US has “publicly vowed to stand with India in the country’s efforts to protect its territorial sovereignty” against China’s aggression highly exaggerates US willingness to get directly embroiled in an India-China conflict.

Using the Quad to make India cooperate on Ukraine would distort its purpose which is to meet China’s challenge, not Russia’s. Issues of food shortages because of the Ukraine crisis are outside the Quad agenda.

Think tank America is not thinking right.

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