Why India isn’t denouncing Russia’s Ukraine war

“India forged a relationship with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. That has carried over into the present day because of mutual interest and nostalgia, but the biggest reason might be defense. India’s arsenal is largely Soviet- or Russian-made; various analysts put the amount anywhere between 60 and 85 percent. And India needs its military to counter what it sees as the biggest threat in its neighborhood: China’s rise.

China’s rise is also the reason India and the United States have deepened their partnership in recent years; India is a member of the “Quad” (along with the US, Australia, and Japan), an informal alliance that came about years ago but which both the Trump and Biden administrations have sought to strengthen. The Quad doesn’t explicitly say it exists as a counterweight to Beijing; it’s a grouping of democracies focused on regional cooperation and other issues. But everyone — including China — gets it.

The antagonism between Washington and Moscow, made worse by Ukraine, puts India in an uncomfortable bind. Except India is used to this. In the Cold War, India practiced nonalignment, where it sought to avoid becoming entangled in the superpower conflicts and maintain its sovereignty. Although that policy has evolved in the decades since, the idea of autonomy still undergirds how India sees its foreign policy.

India “can really silo off relationships,” said Derek Grossman, senior defense analyst at the RAND Corporation, focusing on national security and the Indo-Pacific region. “The relationship they have with Russia should have no bearing whatsoever on their relationships with China, the US, or anybody else.”

It is why India has walked a careful tightrope since Russia launched its war. Prime Minister Modi spoke to both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy shortly after the invasion, reportedly saying in these calls that he wished for an end to hostilities and a return to dialogue. Modi has had to work with both governments over efforts to evacuate thousands of Indian citizens stranded in Ukraine. (At least one Indian student was killed in the siege on Kharkiv.)

While India hasn’t denounced Russia, it has made some pointed comments. India’s Ambassador to the United Nations said in a statement after an abstention on a February 27 UN Security Council vote that the global order is anchored in “respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty of all states.” (That element — Russia’s unprovoked incursion into a sovereign Ukraine — is the one that India might be most sensitive to because of its own border dispute with China.)”

“The Soviet Union and India saw a benefit in relying on each other to counter China and a possible US-China partnership. But India got another perk: Soviet weaponry at what Ganguly called “bargain basement” prices. From the 1970s onward, India built up its military with Soviet, and later Russian, arms and equipment. Even today, the majority of India’s weaponry is of Soviet or Russian origin. Since 2010, Russia makes up two-thirds of India’s arms imports. New Delhi remains Moscow’s biggest arms importer, according to data compiled from the Congressional Research Service.

India has tried to diversify, going to the United Kingdom and France and Israel, and especially, the United States. As the relationship between the US and India grew in the past few decades, so, too, did defense cooperation — to the tune of billions in arms sales. But it’s still nowhere near the amount Russia provides. It’s also not as simple as just swapping out Russian stuff with new, US-made stuff. “Over the last 10 years, Indians have been steadily trying to reduce their dependence on Russia,” Ganguly said. “But it’s damn difficult.”

India needs spare parts to maintain the equipment it already has; arms imports from the US or elsewhere may be inoperable with Russian equipment. India also doesn’t have unlimited funds for defense, and US arms may not come as cheap as Russia’s. “It’s not [as though] you can just turn it off and stop the purchases now,” said Deepa Ollapally, a political scientist specializing in Indian foreign policy at George Washington University. “You’ve got to take care of your entire arsenal, which it won’t be that easy to do.””

“Experts also cautioned against completely pigeonholing India’s connection to Russia as solely transactional. India’s history of being brutally colonized by the British still makes it somewhat wary of being told what to do by the West.”

“India’s biggest concern remains Beijing, especially in the Himalayas, where a decades-old border dispute with China remains a serious source of tension, including a 2020 flare-up, which reportedly left 20 Indian soldiers dead.

But Moscow has grown closer with Beijing, too. In the lead-up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Putin visited Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Beijing, during the Olympics. The two said there were “no limits” to their partnership, and Putin may have planned his war around the Beijing Games at the request of Chinese officials, according to Western intelligence sources.”

“India still sees Russia as a possible partner in the region, but the more leverage China has over Russia, the less likely that will play out in India’s favor.”

India’s farmers confronted Modi and won. What happens now?

“In a surprise reversal after more than a year of nonstop protests, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has agreed to repeal three controversial laws affecting the country’s agricultural industry.
The laws, which sparked a massive protest movement after they were passed in September 2020, were designed to modernize India’s agriculture industry — but India’s farmers and other critics said they would advantage corporations at farmers’ expense.

Modi’s decision to back down is a key victory for farmers, whose protests have centered on the Indian capital of New Delhi, and a sign of growing dissatisfaction with the increasingly Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which Modi leads.”

“The laws promised to open the agriculture market to commercial buyers, as opposed to the current system of government markets purchasing farmers’ goods and effectively guaranteeing them a minimum income. But as Vox’s Jariel Arvin explained in December 2020, farmers feared this would subject them to the whims of the market and massive corporations, and make it harder to make a living.”

India seizes $2.7 billion Afghan heroin haul amid Kabul takeover chaos

“Indian officials said..they had seized nearly three tonnes of heroin originating from Afghanistan worth an estimated 200 billion rupees ($2.72 billion) amid the chaos following last month’s takeover of the country by the Taliban.”

A major battle over free speech on social media is playing out in India during the pandemic

“As the coronavirus pandemic rages in India, claiming thousands of lives, many Indians are turning to social media to demand that the government handle the public health crisis better. And now, the government is silencing these critics in its latest threat to the future of free speech on the internet in the world’s second-most populous country.

In recent weeks, the Indian government has requested that companies like Twitter take down content that it says contains misinformation about the Covid-19 pandemic. But critics say that India’s political leadership under Prime Minister Narendra Modi is using the premise of misinformation to overreach and suppress criticism of the administration’s handling of the pandemic.”

“under the Modi administration of the past several years, the country has expanded its internet regulation laws, giving it more power to censor and surveil its citizens online. The government has several levers to pressure US-based tech companies into compliance: It could arrest Facebook and Twitter staff in India if their employers don’t follow orders. Even further, India could yank Twitter or Facebook off the local internet in India entirely, as it recently did with TikTok and several major Chinese apps in June. And the government resorted to effectively shutting down the internet in Kashmir in February 2020 when it wanted to quiet political dissent in the region.”

“Facebook confirmed that it temporarily blocked posts with a #ResignModi hashtag in India, but it later said it was a mistake because of content associated with the hashtag that violated its policies. Facebook has since restored access to the hashtag.

Facebook declined to comment on how many or what takedown requests it has received from the Indian government in recent weeks. A source familiar with the company said Facebook only took down a small portion of the total requests it received.”

“Recode reviewed the more than 50 tweets that Twitter blocked or deleted at the request of the Indian government in recent weeks. While some could be considered misleading — including one viral image showing devastation in India supposedly related to the pandemic which Indian fact-checker AltNews reported to be outdated — it wasn’t clear what was misleading about several other posts, which appeared to be straightforward news and political commentary.”

India’s ruling party lost a key election. It’s worrying that it even stood a chance.

“For the past few years, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a far-right Hindu nationalist faction, have dominated national politics. Since coming into power in 2014, Modi and BJP have attacked the foundations of India’s political system, gradually undermining the guardrails protecting democracy.

But this weekend saw a notable setback for Modi: an electoral defeat by a larger-than-expected margin.

In local elections held in five states, the BJP lost the biggest prize: control of the Legislative Assembly in West Bengal. The defeat came amid gathering signs of trouble for Modi’s quest to dominate India — the world’s worst Covid-19 outbreak, attributable in no small part to government policy, foremost among them.

A large and diverse cultural hub ruled by a communist faction for three decades, West Bengal can roughly be understood as India’s California. The BJP under Modi is a bit like the GOP under Donald Trump, only far more popular and politically effective. This anti-Muslim faction winning control of the local government in a left-wing bastion would have been a sign that its efforts to snuff out the political opposition had been successful, and that Indian democracy was going further down the path of its deceased cousins in Turkey, Hungary, and Venezuela.

Pre-election reporting suggested the BJP had a real shot at defeating incumbent Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her left-wing Trinamool Congress party (TMC). The national party poured resources into the fight; Modi held a number of large campaign rallies in the state, while India’s Election Commission tilted the rules of the contest in its favor, scheduling the vote in a way that facilitated BJP campaigning and turnout in BJP strongholds.

Yet results released on Sunday showed that Modi‘s gambit had fallen short: The current count shows the TMC holding a supermajority in West Bengal’s parliament, around 213 seats out of 294. The BJP, which some exit polls suggested would win outright, will hold fewer than 80.”

What the crackdown on farmers’ protests says about the future of democracy in India

“Hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers and their supporters have been occupying major roads surrounding the capital, New Delhi, since November in protest of the agriculture reform laws.

Under the new policies, introduced by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Indian farmers must sell goods and make contracts with independent buyers outside of government-sanctioned marketplaces, which have long served as the primary locations for farmers to do business.

Modi and members of his party say the reforms are needed to help India modernize and improve its farming industry, which will mean greater freedom and prosperity for farmers. But the farmers, afraid they will be at the mercy of big business, remain unconvinced.

Modi’s government offered to put the laws on hold for 18 months, but the farmers have refused, demanding a full retraction of the laws to end their standoff.

After an 11th round of talks between the farmers and the government failed, the farmers unions decided to up the ante with a tractor march into the capital on India’s Republic Day, which commemorates the signing of India’s constitution. Miscommunication led to violent face-offs with police, who used tear gas and batons to try to turn them back.

Hundreds of police officers were injured. A farmer was also crushed when his tractor was among the many vehicles overturned in the violence.”

Why tens of thousands of farmers are blocking roads into India’s capital city

“More than 200,000 Indian farmers and their supporters have occupied the streets of New Delhi for days in protest against three new agriculture reform laws, blocking major highways into the capital city and vowing to remain camped there until the laws are repealed.

The legislation, enacted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in late September, aims to deregulate India’s agricultural industry in a move the government says will both provide farmers with more autonomy over choosing prices and make the agricultural sector more efficient.

Under the new policies, farmers will now sell goods and make contracts with independent buyers outside of government-sanctioned marketplaces, which have long served as the primary locations for farmers to do business. Modi and members of his party believe these reforms will help India modernize and improve its farming industry, which will mean greater freedom and prosperity for farmers.

But the protesting farmers aren’t convinced.”

“Agriculture plays a crucial role in the Indian economy, as nearly 60 percent of India’s 1.3 billion people depend on farming for their livelihoods. But farming is also incredibly unproductive, as the sector accounts for only about 15 percent of India’s GDP.

By allowing farmers to sell to whomever they want, the government hopes to attract private business to agriculture, which will benefit some farmers.”

“The problem, Dhume explained, is that there are simply too many farmers in India. He and others have argued that the country should make a similar transition away from farming to manufacturing, like China did.

But so far, India has not been able to generate the kind of manufacturing growth needed to support millions of farmers in their transition to new work. Manufacturing accounted for only about 17 percent of India’s GDP in 2020.

As Dhume said, “If the economy were creating jobs, then there wouldn’t be as much anxiety. In India, because job creation has been so weak, the thought of losing the guarantee is unsettling for farmers.””