OPINION - Narendra Modi’s diplomatic foray: Navigating BRICS Summitry in South Africa

OPINION - Narendra Modi’s diplomatic foray: Navigating BRICS Summitry in South Africa

BRICS offers India a strategic avenue to harmonize its interests with a delicate equilibrium between the US and the Russia-China nexus

By Prof. Dr. Md. Nazmul İslam

-​​​​​​​The author is the head of Türkiye, Asia, and Indo-Pacific Studies (TAIPS), Institute for International Relations and Strategic Research (ULİSA), and an Assistant Professor of Political Science and Public Administration at Ankara Yildirim Beyazıt University (AYBU).

ISTANBUL (AA) - Amidst a plethora of arguments, a proposition of unequivocal clarity emerges: BRICS, an alliance comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, orchestrates the convergence of 5 preeminent developing nations. This confluence not only encapsulates 41% of the global populace but also commands a significant share of the world’s economic landscape, wielding 24% of the global gross domestic product (GDP) and overseeing 16% of worldwide trade.

- Delving into the vital agenda and charting course through the upcoming BRICS Summit

In 2023’s BRICS Summit, arguably the quintessential and inherently contentious topic that shall command the attention of BRICS leaders rests upon the prospective expansion of the BRICS consortium through the induction of fresh constituents. This fervor is manifest in the formal applications submitted by 23 countries aspiring to secure BRICS membership, a list encompassing names such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Argentina, Indonesia, Egypt, and Ethiopia. However, the prospects of substantial declarations in this realm might be marred by the divergent viewpoints permeating among BRICS members pertaining to the parameters for admitting new participants, given the bloc’s adherence to a consensus-based modus operandi.

Of note is China’s fervent advocacy for expansion, which aligns with its aspiration to augment its geopolitical stature, particularly within the context of the prevailing tensions with the US. Concurrently, Russia seeks to leverage expansion as a mechanism to surmount the isolation stemming from its involvement in the Ukraine conflict. On the contrary, Brazil remains apprehensive, casting a skeptical lens on the notion of enlargement. South Africa, positioned as the smallest participant within the bloc in terms of economic influence and population size, serves as a harbinger of the benefits of expansion.

- Reassessing India’s position

While certain aspects of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s physical involvement in the imminent BRICS summit remain obscured, a reliable affirmation has been issued through an official communication from the Indian government. Evidently, from a geopolitical standpoint, BRICS offers India a strategic avenue to harmonize its interests with a delicate equilibrium between the US and the Russia-China nexus.

For India, BRICS furnishes a platform that serves to coalesce efforts against terrorism. Notably, recent times have witnessed India actively engaging with China within the BRICS framework, thereby facilitating the resolution of mutual disputes and cultivating collaboration with fellow member nations. Despite the downturn in relations following the fatal altercation on their disputed Himalayan border in 2020, where casualties suffered on both sides, avenues such as the BRICS platform have contributed to the potential for reconciliation.

Curiously, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit unfolded shortly after Modi’s return from an official visit to Washington, where President Joe Biden accorded him an esteemed reception. This convergence of diplomatic events underscores the multifaceted nature of India’s international engagements and diplomatic strategies. Upon scrutinizing the meticulous cultivation undertaken by Washington over an extended period, it becomes evident that several dimensions of the US-India rapport remain intricate and demanding. A noteworthy progression is observed in bilateral trade, which has burgeoned tenfold since the turn of the millennium.

At the multilateral level, India’s participation within the burgeoning Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD), encompassing the US, Australia, India, and Japan, assumes pivotal significance. This collaboration not only aligns with the US’ Indo-Pacific strategy but also serves to engender a united front against China’s initiatives like the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC), the Cross-Border E-Commerce (CBEC) and so on in the regions spanning the Far East, Southeast Asia, South Asia, West Asia, and the Horn of Africa.

Presently, the sphere of US-India cooperation traverses an array of domains, spanning defense, global health, sustainable development, climate action, and technological advancement, among others. This evolution encompasses apprehensions within Washington regarding New Delhi’s democratic regression under the leadership of Modi. Furthermore, India’s reluctance to vociferously condemn Russia’s incursion into Ukraine has perturbed Western capitals, even as New Delhi forges enhanced economic ties with Moscow, significantly augmenting its oil procurement. Though the US-India relationship has undergone a profound metamorphosis over the past quarter century, this transformation, while notable, has not yielded a level of partnership or alignment akin to the closest affiliations characteristic of US alliances.

A contention can be advanced stipulating that India neither functions as a US ally nor seeks to assume such a role. Simultaneously, it holds true that India’s circumstances inhibit it from outrightly selecting allies or designating adversaries. The intricate interplay of factors such as a burgeoning population, economic impediments, poverty, erosion of human rights, and democratic values, along with ongoing border and security predicaments, necessitates India’s engagement with Western powers, albeit transiently. Currently, there appears to be a tactical utilization of the opportunities afforded by the Russia-Ukraine conflict, yet this maneuver does not inherently elevate India to a position of preeminence within the region.

- The dynamics of great power rivalry

Conversely, the brief utilization of prevailing circumstances does not equate to India assuming the mantle of a "big brother" within the Global South. From the American standpoint, it remains evident that the burgeoning status of India as an ascending power, while hinting at a trajectory reminiscent of the relationships the US maintains with entities like Japan, Australia, or the UK, fails to meet the pronounced expectations that such a projection entails.

Within the Western ambit, particularly from the vantage point of the US, India emerges as a partner that elicits caution rather than unwavering trust. However, within the context of immediate and intermediate policy timeframes, the available alternatives are limited, compelling Western nations to maintain their rapport with India as a means to safeguard their vested interests within the region. Concurrently, India confronts a similar predicament, underscored by the necessity to foster enduring affiliations with Western powers, particularly for the realization of long-term policy objectives. These objectives are further compounded by a plethora of domestic challenges.

On this trajectory, India’s strategic alignment gravitates more favorably towards the West rather than seeking deeper entanglements with non-Western coalitions like the BRICS. The pursuit of geopolitical equilibrium presents itself as an intricate undertaking in the foreseeable realm of global politics, shaped by the ongoing transformation of the global order. However, India occupies a position that lacks complete trust as a reliable partner for either camp of both Western and Eastern powers. Moreover, the complexities of India’s circumstances impede the formulation of a truly independent foreign policy framework, particularly one that could feasibly sustain its long-term strategic endeavors.

​​​​​​​*Opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu.

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