Dr. Gazala Fareedi. The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
There is an oft quoted line in the realist understanding of international relations which states that, there are no permanent friends or enemies in international politics, but only permanent interests. India has abstained thrice on the vote in the United Nations regarding the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The second vote was to convene a special emergency session of the General Assembly under the ‘Uniting for Peace Resolution’. The statement on explanation of the third vote focused majorly focused on demanding “safe and uninterrupted passage for all Indian nationals, including our students, who are still stranded in Ukraine, particularly from Kharkiv and other cities in the conflict zone”. There has been a number of explanations and justifications that have explained India’s continued abstention. From Russia being one of the most important defence partners to larger calculations of balancing against China. Dr. Happymon Jacob, in a recent article stated that the stand India has taken is the least harmful one considering the “harsh geopolitical circumstances”. He goes on to even state that “While the Indian stand does reek of realpolitik, it reeks more of strategic weakness”.
That India is behaving the way it is behaving to save its own interests is totally understandable. But can it be justified? From a practical perspective, that is how most countries would have behaved. But as the war deepens and more lives are lost, increasingly one begins to get uncomfortable with India not taking a clear position. Afterall, the bedrock of international politics – independence of a sovereign country, Ukraine is being violated. Ideally, the principle of sovereignty can only be circumvented on the basis of a humanitarian intervention authorized by the United Nations. But the causes for Russian aggression have been explicated majorly on grounds of its threat perception against NATO’s expansion. Anuradha M. Chenoy has outlined that the Russian President has stated on numerous occasions that he seeks to protect the Russian ethnic minorities in Ukraine. She writes, “Under the ultra nationalist Volodymyr Zelensky, laws were passed making Ukrainian the only official language….Sadly, NATO and the European Union were not vocal on this violation of citizenship rights. So Russia stepped in.” But unless there is major human rights violations and genocide taking place, sending your military troops on the ground to invade another country is clearly overstepping the principles of sovereignty. Had such actions for the very same reasons been acceptable, there should have been such interventions all around the world.
From an international law perspective, Russian justification for aggression cannot be justified on any grounds. India’s decision to not take a clear stand and abstain from voting in the United Nations may help India balance its interests vis-à-vis its growing western allies and Russian partnership, but it is clearly putting India on the wrong side of history. Arguments for taking one or the other side might be given on the basis of what India will receive in return for taking those sides. Supporting Ukraine will get us benefits from the West and supporting Russia will get us benefits from Russia. But the question to be asked is, should truth, justice and humanitarian considerations have no role to play in such decision making? Such grave transgressions of territorial boundary and independence does not serve anybody’s interests in the long run. Russia might have supported us in the UN, but this policy of ‘you scratch my back and il scratch yours’ can be criminal and is completely deplorable, especially when foundational international rules are being violated glaringly.
India is vying for a permanent seat in the Security Council and wants to be counted among the great powers. The whole shift from the policy of non-alignment was to shift India’s identity from being a leader of the developing world to go on to join the league of the great powers. To quote the Foreign Minister of India, S. Jaishankar, who in interview with C. Raja Mohan in July 2020 had stated that, “But today, people turn to us for solutions. We are not the bystander and have a contribution to make”. Greatness does not come from shying away from decisions, but from taking your position and defending it. This moment in history presents us an opportunity to make a mark. India should not be tied down only by considerations of pragmatism and self-interest. As this is being written, innocent people are being attacked in their own homes. We belong to a country whose principles of peaceful-co-existence and non-alignment the world espoused in the second half of the 20th century. We were only a few years into our independence, but our foreign policy based on principled positions got us respect and appreciation. We were leaders then and now our insistence on sitting on the fence is making us worse than followers. In matters of grave injustice, when one remains silent, then it’s taking the side of the aggressor by default. A principled position is expected from a country that is built on the ideals of anti-racism, anti-colonialism, truth, passive resistance and non-violence.
- 28th February, 2022, “India Abstains In Another UN Vote On Ukraine, Welcomes Moscow-Kyiv Talks”- NDTV https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/india-abstains-on-resolution-to-call-for-un-general-assembly-session-on-ukraine-2793567
- 2nd March, 2022, “India abstained on the vote today in the UN general Assembly emergence special session resolution on #Ukraine. Our Statement on Explanation of Vote” —Tweet by PR/Amb T S Tirumurti (Ambassador of India to the United Nations) @ambtstirumurti
- 28th February, 2022, “The anatomy of India’s Ukraine dilemma”- Happymon Jacob in The Hindu https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/the-anatomy-of-indias-ukraine-dilemma/article65090424.ece
- Responsibility to Protect-Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect- United Nations website https://www.un.org/en/genocideprevention/about-responsibility-to-protect.shtml
- 24th February, 2022, “Ukraine as a Matryoshka doll set of crises” by Anuradha M. Chenoy in The Hindu https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/ukraine-as-a-matryoshka-doll-set-of-crises/article65078204.ece
- 21st July, 2020, “Non-alignment was for Specific Era, India Not a Bystander Today’: External Affairs Minister” by C. Raja Mohan in News18. https://www.news18.com/news/india/non-alignment-was-for-specific-era-india-not-a-bystander-today-external-affairs-minister-jaishankar-2726559.html
About the Author: Dr. Gazala Fareedi is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science, Southfield College, Darjeeling. She has a doctorate in the field of International Politics from Jawaharlal Nehru University. Her research interests are in the domains of international relations theory, diplomatic studies, international law, and Indian foreign policy.
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