Sunday, May 19, 2024

The US Question and the next step on India-Iran ties

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi recently.

How important is Iran for India? 

In crude terms, probably second only to Russia.

Figures sure don’t support it:  

If oil is the biggest component in energy-deficient India—our 85% needs are imported—Iran factors nil. 

So literally not a penny in $119 billion chunk of our overall $600-billion plus imports go to Tehran. 

And if India exports $300-plus billion of its goods around the world, guess where Iran is: 44th in the list when even Nepal is 10th

Yet Iran is second only to Russia for its value for without it we literally have no ground below our feet. 

If you look at the world map, you would understand it: We have Himalayas in north, China and Pakistan sit on our eastern and western shoulders and all we are left with are our sea routes to conduct business with the world. 

So if India could literally hit the road, like China has with its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), it could reach faster and cheaper to Central Asia and the rest of Europe and its trade ambitions could explode. 

If we are still the 5th largest economy of the world, imagine how it would boost our chances to be the Top Three in the world in next decade. 

Our infrastructure, technology, manufacturing, transport, agriculture, demography edge etc would hit the roof. 

It would not only lift our 1.40 billion people to an envious lifestyle, we would also have the money to spare for Global South which prime minister Narendra Modi has set as priority for India’s G20 role. 

Don’t we know that the Global South is beholden to China for this precise reason, its money which keeps them on their feet on all sectors of economy. 

Iran offers that window to where we want to see ourselves in next decade and more; its the node for which we built Chabahar Port and without which the INSTC (International North South Transport Corridor) is a non-starter. 

This land connectivity, through INSTC, is virtually the future India sees for itself. 

It is what would make India a global power, and not just a regional player. 

So if Tehran is this important, why don’t India offers its money through the purchase of Iranian oil which till 2019 made it among New Delhi’s top three oil suppliers?

More so when Tehran desperately needs friends and trade to alleviate the US sanctions, in force since 1979 but only intensified since 2014 on the drama around its so-called nuclear threat?

For a while India enjoyed buying Iranian oil under the US waivers which stopped under Donald Trump in 2019. 

Tehran was rightly hurt, even took recourse to criticising India on Kashmir, and it appeared India had lost a friend forever with which it had shared boundaries till 1947, and a civilizational history for centuries. 

A valid question now is: Why India fears US on Iran when it doesn’t on the issue of Russia?

For one, India in 2022 is vastly different to what it was in 2014. 

In 2014, it was just about coming out of the damage of Congress rule. In just eight years, its a confident nation of nationalistic fervour and burning ambitions. A global player trusted by even antagonistic forces. 

For last 5 years, India hasn’t bought oil from Iran while it has seen China lap it up with both hands and yet no US sanction has come Beijing’s way. 

India has also tested waters with Russian oil in holding its ground against US pressure—a primer of which had come by buying the new age S-400 missiles from Moscow. 

For a nation which can’t survive without energy of which it produces little, India has no option but to buy the cheapest oil in the market for its people for whom even one-rupee hike is a matter to decide who forms the government. 

Iran brilliantly fits this puzzle for its oil resources, for trade, for connectivity but there is also a bigger geopolitical necessity above all. 

The two of world’s biggest powers today are the United States and China. 

India along with Russia provides that third vector as a balancing voice which allows Global South to not fall between these two rival poles. 

Not to say that it allows both India and Russia also to project themselves as independent powers, and not a sidekick of either the United States or China. 

This logic is not lost on New Delhi. But its that big bully called the United States which doesn’t take kindly for a friend or a foe to sidestep the road it lays down for them. 

Henry Kissinger once famously quipped: “It may be dangerous to be America’s enemy, but to be America’s friend is fatal.”

If this sounds chilling, there are good enough reasons for it. 

  • How do you cope with secessionists who come from across the border and inflame your Sikh and Muslim population to keep trouble brewing?
  • How do you cope with domestic anarchy, whipped up on religious or caste lines, or gender and LGBT politics, taking the route of our Universities, to show the government as impotent, turning its popular base into open hostility? 
  • How do you cope with a sold-out academia and media, the planted Human Rights groups and NGOs, a judiciary, bureaucracy and political parties fattened over decades, ready to use your own Constitution against you in the name of “democracy” and “individual rights”?
  • How do you cope with a Hegemon which has a doctrine of keeping you destabilized at your borders: Sometimes, its Kashmir and Punjab; or Uyghur, or Ukraine, or nurtured Kurds in Syria which bomb Istanbul and cause riots in Iran on the orchestrated hijab issue. 

And if this is not all, the US has Dollar through which it could roil your financial markets; the beholden world bodies like IMF, WB and WTO to suck the last drop of your blood, the joined-at-hips EU who remains one of your two top trading outposts alongside the US. 

(If still not convinced, give an answer to yourself: 

How do anti-CAA stir, or farmers’ protest could sustain themselves for over a year? 

How could penniless farmers squat on doors of Delhi without a worry on feeding families? 

If tens of millions of funds were needed for that stir to be sustained, who provided that money? 

If the judiciary first sat on the issue, and then didn’t make public the report of the committee it had formed, what explains this dereliction of Constitutional obligation?)

It should explain why India has been hesitant on Iran in the last few years.

Iran has been grumpy but they also understand India’s predicament, listening to the Russian voice in their ears. 

They hope India would come around with an open stance of affinity with Tehran—most probably when the US becomes an unbearable weight on New Delhi’s shoulders. 

Iran is also the card through which India keeps US in check. If New Delhi openly aligns with Iran, it would be game over for the US. 

Washington knows it. The nightmare of US is Russia-Iran-China-India as four poles of a multipolar world which would bring curtains on its global supremacy.  

All four, incidentally, are civilizational forces too. 

Not that this New World Order is far off. 

Iran is already part of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). 

It has survived against all odds and is a power to reckon with in the Middle East today. 

India also doesn’t need to worry on account of Iran’s rivals, such as Saudi Arabia, Israel or even Turkey as all have woken up to the changing dynamics of Middle East which drives the world through its oil. 

The next US action would be either to withdraw itself in its own zone or open the Taiwan front with China. 

It’s unlikely US would withdraw: Its survival depends on its aggression for the world knows Dollar is nothing but a fake currency. 

Only a servile world would let Dollar retain its pole position: A free world would reject it at the first opportunity. 

So if US aggression is imminent, so would be India’s distance from the Washington: And India-Iran ties would have warmed up a notch higher. 

If India is to keep growing, fulfill aspirations of its billion-plus, sooner or later it would have to bite this bullet. 

It’s Washington only which would leave it with no other choice. 

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