BRICS Summit Shows India’s Balancing Act Amid Great Power Politics

Amid the Russia-Ukraine war, BRICS kickstarted its 14th summit, held virtually in China from 23-24 June 2022. This year’s annual BRICS summit’s theme was “Foster High-quality BRICS Partnership, Usher in a New Era for Global Development.” The summit is particularly significant as it reflects India’s commitment to act as a balancer by attending the BRICS summit as well as the G7 meetings.

For the past few years, India is looking to increase its clout and make progress toward developing strategic and economic relations with the West. All of this is happening while also keeping relations with Russia and China. India’s leaning toward balancing between the West and its neighboring East develops from its non-aligned nature during the Cold War. External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar rightly states in his book, “The India Way”, that “India must reach out in as many directions as possible and maximize its gains.” The statement emphasizes that India has moved on from its past strategy of keeping a distance from the US and navigating its rise in global power politics through enhanced cooperation with all states.

By balancing between the West and East, India stands in a position of advantage as on one side it champions the idea of making alternative platforms for the developing countries, while on the other also remains in the good books of the Western leaders.

India’s Engagement With the US

Since 2008, India-US relations have taken a new shape after four-decade-long strained relations due to the Cold War. In the 21st century, India-US relations are ushering in the context of a rising China. India is engaged with the US through QUAD, which is a strategic security dialogue between India, Australia, Japan, and the US. In addition to the QUAD initiative, India also became the founding member of the US-led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework.

Historically, India and US never had a strategic relationship due to US’s interests in Pakistan during the Cold War and India’s ideological proximity to the USSR. However, to counter China’s rise India has become an important factor for the United States due to its strategic location in the Indo-Pacific and historic rivalry with China. India, in its objective of achieving a regional hegemon status, is collaborating with the US and others to increase its area of influence. India has been enhancing its standing by participating in G7 meetings, and the BRICS summit while also signing simultaneous agreements with the US.

India’s Engagement With Russia and China

Russia is a traditional ally with which India had ‘time-tested’ ties throughout the Cold War and plays a crucial role in its defense equipment. China, on the other hand, is an immediate neighbor, with which India shares a tragic past of deceit. China is one of India’s largest trading partners. In May 2020, Chinese and Indian forces had a faceoff at the Galwan valley after which the relations between both countries remained strained. However, with the participation in the BRICS summit, the focus of Indian foreign policy is clear. India, at this point of navigating its middle power path, wants to deepen its trade relations with China as well as Russia. 

Concerning the Russia-Ukraine war, India has constantly abstained from voting against Russia which shows that India, although in a strategic alliance with the West, still wants to balance out between its allies for its national interest.

Implications

Although India has strategically shifted its way of crafting alliances, the core idea remains the same: balancing between the great powers. The balancing act gives an impetus to India of fulfilling its national interests while also generating close relations with advanced economies. The recent BRICS summit served as an example of how India is ready to be on the side of both camps without compromising its interest. In the summit, it made sure that no visible anti-US stance was adopted as part of the declaration. While being on the other side of the camp with QUAD forces, India never openly mentions China and its aggression in the South China Sea. 

Due to India’s rising economic and military power and a general perception of the 21st century being the prerogative of Asia the developed world is keen on engaging with the country. To gain a great power status India must continue on the path of balancing as in International Relations there are no permanent alliances. 

From a policy perspective, India should stay clear of being heavily linked to any bloc formation against a single country. It should make its balancing policy more proactive and take initiatives to engage its neighbors and great powers. Today India is not a non-aligned state, rather it has started asserting its strategic autonomy while making alliances. India’s position as a balancer between two powers serves to its advantage as it nurtures its incentives and promotes the idea of ‘Vasudev Katumbhakam’, which means the whole world is my family. By being with China it stands to gain economically, while by being with the US, India seeks to enhance its security and influence in the Indo-Pacific. Therefore, India’s balancing act between the West and East goes on.

[Photo by BRICS 2022, official website]

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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