By Haider Abbas
There is a lot happening in geo-politics and India is quite in the middle of it. India is holding the Presidency of G-20 summit due to be organized in coming September. India is also holding the rotating Presidency of Shanghai Co-operation Organization (SCO) summit soon to be held in India in May. As these two mega international events are due, came a damning BBC two-parts documentary ‘India: The Modi Question’ , released on January 17, which showed that UK had held a secret inquiry into the Gujarat 2002 riots in which it held PM Narendra Modi to be directly responsible for it.
There were uproarious scenes in UK parliament, where British PM Rishi Sunak supported Narendra Modi ( January 19) and US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said that the US is not familiar with the BBC documentary, but it is familiar with the shared democratic values that connects Washington and New Delhi on January 24. India has banned the BBC documentary. Within almost week of Rishi Sunak coming to the rescue of Modi, came a major geo-political development as UK offered India to become a part of the trilateral security pact-AUKUS but at the cost of France on January 28!
It may be mentioned here that India is now already a part of Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) which has US, Japan Australia and India in it, and obviously Russia had raised eyebrows on it as QUAD is primarily aimed to give a push against China through shared ideas in the Indo-Pacific region, the AUKUS (Australia, UK and US) is a “security pact” between the trio. AUKUS prime role in to contain China despite there being reference to China. The AUKUS deal was brokered by US President Joe Biden and the outgoing UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on September 15, 2021. In a joint statement, Washington, and London agreed to provide hypersonic missiles to Australia. UK wants the expansion of AUKUS and India and Japan to become a part of it. Japan has been always a China rival. India too is embroiled in border disputes with China. US wants India and Japan as a bulwark against China as US is also in conflict with China over Taiwan.
The timings of Rishi Sunak offer are worth it. He had just placated Modi and took the opportunity to buttress India to become a constituent of AUKUS, but not before India is to shun France for military purchases. But, India to become a member of AUKUS is a bumpy-ride as it is focused as a defence alliance and will India walk into it is a big question, but nevertheless, it is worth pondering as to why UK has offered to it? The answer perhaps lies in India going ahead with its mega navy ‘Project 75 Alpha’, under which ‘the Indian Navy aims to procure new nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSN) under Project 75 Alpha which costs around $15 billion-$20 billion, reported IndiaTvNews 1 .
All the world biggest defence exporters are ‘keeping a keen eye’ on the upcoming defence mega tender from India. US and UK just don’t want to be left behind Russia and France. France has been quite instrumental into importing defence weaponry to India of late. What surely alarmed UK and US is a recent development as per The Hindustan Times 2 on January 5, that ‘India-France to join hands in fighter and submarine design and manufacturing’ as France diplomatic advisor Emmanuel Bonne visited New Delhi to have ‘his strategic dialogue with National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, pitched at making France a key partner in “Make in India” campaign.’ This is what truly had stemmed the US-UK offer, obviously, out of sheer raw geo-political interests.
The biggest defence purchases are to happen and every nation, now outside Russia, wants to bag this 25-20 billion USD deal, as Russia had long felt it. It had come officially through Russia in November last, reported by Poltico.EU 3 ‘France aims to lure India from its main arms dealer as Russia’s growing unreliability as an arms supplier is giving France a prime opportunity to swoop in and accelerate its moves to make New Delhi one of the cornerstones of President Emmanuel Macron’s major strategic push in the Indo-Pacific region.’ France is India’s second-largest arms supplier after Russia still yet. Macron is soon to visit India in March.
France long objective is to make India move-away from Russia, which also otherwise has been marred by the Russia-Ukraine war, since one year, therefore, the obvious vacuum of Russia is where France wants to step-into. This is what UK and US does not want! Here is where comes the cut-throat competition to France from its own friendly countries like UK and US. UK and US had already stabbed-in-the-back, informed The Guardian 4 when they made Australia to scrap the nuclear-submarine deal with France and instead now UK and US will offer the services under AUKUS. So much anger was in France that Australia had to offer 555 million Euros as settlement, told The Hindustan Times 5. When UK and US can force Australia the ‘sealed-deal’ will India be able to contain the US and UK, particularly US pressure? This is what is to be seen.
The UK and US offer has strategically got given to Japan too. This is what matters most, as Japan being the prime-mover of QUAD will also pressurize India to go into AUKUS fold. Japan is also now on the rise to increase its defence budget as Al Jazeera 6 had reported a 20% hike in Japan defence budget in December last. Japan apprehensions are in the face of regional security concerns and threats posed by China and North Korea. ‘Japan will boost its defence budget for 2023 to a record 6.8 trillion yen ($55bn), or a 20-percent increase.’ North Korea is a Chinese protégé.
The million dollar question is will India join AUKUS? The odds are both in favour and against, as firstly it may be understood that a nuclear-submarine for India, from UK and US, will at least take 15 years or more. Plus, India going ahead in AUKUS will see a more potential conflict with China, strained relations with Russia and increase in India’s dependency over US. But, inside AUKUS is also to make India become more emboldened to threats particularly from China.
India is now to be in a catch-22 situation as aggressiveness from China is to grow with time, while India also does not forget that UK had once made India its colony. Japan too had been in conflict with UK in the Second World War. It is also to be seen as to how Russia takes on the question of India into AUKUS. Russia has always been a challenge for UK and US. India, however, as of now, wants to steer clear of Russia’s friendship, of the last seventy-five years, despite that around 70% of the entire Indian weaponry is Russian made. Much perhaps is dependent on Macron’s visit
The writer is a former UP State Information Commissioner and writes on international politics.