India’ foreign policy 2021, which when history is recorded fifty years hence, would be termed as ‘Modi Doctrine’ reflecting contemporary geopolitical realities, in terms of India as a ‘Natural Ally’ of the US and West, can ill-afford to manifest or reflect ‘Geopolitical Opposites’ like membership of China-led or China-dominated geopolitical groupings like the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) or the Russia-India- China (RIC) Trilateral. By extension, even India’s membership of BRICS becomes contradictory
Indian PM Narendra Modi’s Washington visit in end-September 2021, dramatically reflected thrice over, India’s geopolitical choices and strategic tilts. This visit of PM Modi was a three-layered significant visit which incorporated display of the ever strengthening bilateral US-India Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership and India’s quadrilateral QUAD foreign policy preferences.
The US visit also incorporated the global context in PM Modi’s address to the UN General Assembly in New York where perceptionaly was reflected the synchronous convergences of the Washington parleys with US President Biden and the QUAD leaders.
Significantly, US President Biden favoured inclusion of India as a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council.
Contextually, what is at stake for the Indian foreign policy establishment in 2021 is a transformative reset of its traditional relationships with China and Russia who contemporarily manifest perceptions of outright adversarial stances like those of China and Russia which manifests more strategic convergences with China over India.
China is hostile to India and still displays propensities for military aggression against India as visible in Eastern Ladakh continuing intense military confrontation ongoing since April 2018. Russia is no longer the valued strategic asset for India in terms of a countervailing Power for India against China.
Additionally, in the highly polarised global geopolitics in play in 2021 and beyond, one finds China and Russia strategically in unison ranged against the ‘Arc of Democracies’ led by the United States especially in the Indo Pacific Region.
Contemporary geopolitical churning offers no space for Indian foreign policy to indulge in Non-Alignment of yesteryears or even its successor precept of Non-Alignment 2.0 propagated by some Indian foreign policy pundits.
Inia’s participation in Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and the Russia-India-China Trilateral were reflective of India’s foreign policy era (2004-14) where India was attempting to discard the long-held shibboleths and the hangover of the Non-Alignment era which hardly served India’s national security imperatives.
The 2004-14 era of Indian foreign policy was also marked by what can best be described as India’s ‘China Hedging Strategy’ or .Risk Aversion’ impulses of the Indian political leadership of that time .in relation to the China Threat.
In 2021, when India’s foreign policy underlying premises now unambiguously reflect the prime determinant of India’s ‘National Security Imperatives’ in relation to the China Threat, where does scope lie for Indian foreign policy to continue its membership of China-led or China-dominated groupings like the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation or the Russia-India China Trilateral Meets?
The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in its intent and composition when it was founded was patently directed at the United States unipolar predominance globally, the US strategic pivot to Asia Pacific and Russia’s fears of ‘NATO Creep’ towards Russia’s peripheries.
In 2021 the SCO has decidedly emerged as China’s instrument of foreign policy with Russia playing second-fiddle to China, as a rival strategic grouping and as a Russo-China counterweight to United States stiffening the Indo Pacific Security Template with the QUAD Security Initiative and now the recently formed AUKUS.
Notably, no Nation allied to the United States or in Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with the United States, with the exception of India, is a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.
In 2021, SCO is dominated by China and it is composed of China and Russia as leading members, the Central Asian Republics which were part of the Former Soviet Union, Pakistan now as ‘Frontline State’ of China and Iran burdened now with a 25 Year Strategic Partnership with China.
India’s continued membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is therefore geopolitically and strategically incongruous with its being a pivotal strategic partner of the United States and the West on Indo Pacific Security and its 2021 commitments to The QUAD.
India’s continued membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is also an affront to Japan which values its Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with India in the context of Asian Arc of Democracies, an Asian Coalition against China Threat and in the wider context of The QUAD.
When it comes to India’s membership of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, India’s foreign policy seriously in terms of its policy thrusts and content is glaringly reflecting “Geopolitical Opposites” and of India as an Emerged Power still confused of its geopolitical and strategic preferences.
It would be in India’s ‘National Security’ interests to immediately withdraw its membership from the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.
Personally, as a Military Veteran (Brigadier General) of the Indian Army, my blood boils when I see visuals of Indian Army contingents in SCO Joint exercises with Chinese and Pakistan military contingents. Indian Army cannot be seen ‘dancing with the wolves’ whose predatory adventurism Indian Army faces every day 24/7 on India’s borders with China Occupied Tibet and Pakistan.
The Russia-India China Trilateral and India’s annual participation in Ministerial Level Meets is also a hangover of the 2004-14 era of India’s foreign policy. In 2021 when China and the Russia-China Strategic Nexus is for all practical purposes a ‘Russia-China Military Alliance’ where does geopolitical and strategic space exist for India to participate a patently Anti-US Alliance?
India should immediately put an end to this foreign policy charade when Indian Foreign policy thrived on fig leaves of ‘strategic ambiguity’. India must disassociate itself from the Russia-India-China Trilateral.
Concluding, it needs emphasis that fundamentally, what is at stake for Indian foreign policy establishment is that in 2021 India with its Major Power aspirations India cannot be globally or regionally be perceived as confused in its geopolitical and strategic preferences and directions. India has moved much far ahead on the road of its geopolitical preferences and strategic tilts. Adhering to those directions, it is high time that Indian foreign policy jettisons the load of the ‘Geopolitical Opposites’ of membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and Russia-India –China Trilateral., or possibly even BRICS.