Vladimir Putin must heed Narendra Modi’s words

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The recently concluded Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, was largely unremarkable for its geopolitical significance, but it was a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of SCO that made it global headlines. It is unsurprising that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remarks to Russian President Vladimir Putin caught the attention of international journalists for most of the Western media has been agonising over India’s stance on the Russia-Ukraine conflict for months now. Hence even the slightest of hints from India on the conflict were naturally to become a subject matter of interest to the global media. However, it is the echo of Narendra Modi’s remarks to Putin that are now being heard in New York and Washington DC, that make those remarks all the more interesting.

Narendra Modi’s conversation with Vladimir Putin opened with two very key points. The first was that “this was not the time of war”. The second was that the world and especially the poorer nations have to grapple with the crisis of food, fertiliser and energy all of which are fuelling inflation across the globe. Predictably the Western media chose to editorialise these remarks terming them as a case of chiding or rebuke. In contrast the reactions from Washington DC and New York were measured. US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan termed Prime Minister Modi’s remarks as a “statement of principle”. Going even further French President Emmanuel Macron while addressing the United Nations General Assembly made a rare reference to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying that he agreed with his words that now is not the time for war and it was time for collective efforts by sovereign states to face the common challenges.

India’s position on the Ukraine-Russia conflict has been a subject of consternation to many in the Western media and across the Western intelligentsia for some time now. While India’s concern for its large diaspora in Ukraine comprising mostly of young students barely registered itself within the psyche of the Western media, India’s herculean efforts to evacuate them while deftly negotiating temporary truce by both sides to the conflict was mostly lost on the Western media. Instead, the Western media largely focused its commentary on India’s purchase of Russian oil and the hypocrisy of their criticism notwithstanding. Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar’s recent remarks at a European conference on this hypocrisy were fitting and apt where he called out the critics for their double standards with reference to Europe’s continued purchase of Russian oil and gas.

While the Western media has largely misconstrued India’s position, there is a section within the Indian intelligentsia that has been bending logic backwards to rationalise Russia’s conduct in Ukraine. It is one thing to be guided by Indian interests and articulate a position based on the same but it is quite another to turn logic on its head to seek to justify the conflict. The strategic considerations behind Russia’s actions notwithstanding, there cannot be a rational or moral justification for the conflict that has displaced thousands, affected millions and is continuing to have global ramifications with a cold winter ahead. Clever arguments and convoluted logic cannot explain away the reality that it is the poorest of the poor who are bearing the burden of this conflict with soaring food inflation and a chilling energy crisis imperilling food security. It is this point that Narendra Modi sought to make when he said that now was not the time of war while emphasising the food, energy and fertiliser crisis that is hitting the poorest of the poor the hardest.

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Unlike the transactional nature of the Russia-China relationship, India’s relationship with Russia has been deep and time tested through several geo-political upheavals and crises. It is to Prime Minister Modi’s credit that India has charted its own course despite the geo-political pressures, guided by Indian interests. It would be pertinent to point out that at a time when Europe has blocked Russian media and YouTube has de-platformed it globally, RT has made a debut alongside other international channels on DD FreeDish, India’s largest direct to home free to air platform with reach into more than 45 million homes. This signifies the value India attaches to its relationship with Russia while standing for the belief that the Russian point of view, irrespective of its flaws and inaccuracies, needed to be heard.

It is for these reasons that Vladimir Putin must heed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s words, for they are not a mere chiding or rebuke but they carry with them the weight of the decades old Indian understanding of Russia and the burden of the world’s poorest of poor. They are a signal to Russia that the reservoir of patience has been exhausted and the poorest of the poor can no longer bear the burden of this conflict, hence now is not the time for War. One can only hope that these well-intentioned words from a friend are heeded to and Russia finds its way out of the conflict before a winter of hardship further blights the global economy.

The writer is former CEO, Prasar Bharti. Views expressed are personal.

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Vladimir Putin must heed Narendra Modi’s words
Vladimir Putin must heed Narendra Modi’s words
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