Since Russia officially declared that it’s bestowing upon Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi its highest civilian award — Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle the First-Called — for playing a crucial role in strengthening the bilateral ties between India and Russia, the BJP started using the news of the accolade, second in the row after the UAE’s government bestowed upon Modi the highest civilian award of the Emirates – the Zayed Medal in the same week, to build the narrative that the incumbent prime minister is the only one who has uplifted India’s prestige in the international arena and is respected by the world powers.
Stunned by this recent development, the parliamentary opposition couldn’t afford to analyse the implications of the Russian civilian award or criticise the choice of timing by Moscow. There was no synchronised effort seen in the opposition’s stand on this award due to diplomatic compulsions; though no hysteria like “Russian influence” that marred the US presidential election 2016 is acceptable in Indian politics, still it’s imperative that critical analysis is done to reveal why Russia chose Modi for this Tsarist award during the general election.
The Russian affair of the Sangh Parivar
Even though there are volumes of writings on India-Russia relationship, from the Soviet era until now, very few would provide any real in-depth critical analysis of this relationship and how it has boosted the fortunes of the oligarchs on both sides.
Whenever the topic of India-Russia bilateral ties is raked up, there are eulogies offered to the “time-tested” alliance between the two countries by the rulers. Officially, both New Delhi and Moscow love using cliché like “all-weather-ally”, “old friends”, “strong allies”, etc, as epithets to conceal that the diplomatic alliance helps the capitalists of both countries to prosper at the cost of Indian people’s agony.
Russia’s decision to confer its highest civilian award to Modi has nothing to do with the India-Russia friendship. Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted to woo Modi and his regime, which Kremlin is certain will return to power, in order to secure Moscow’s business interests in India. As awards have become a mode of flattering foreign partners and to do business development these days, which is visible in Modi’s earlier accolades by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and the Kotler Foundation connected with the Saudi oil lobby that’s seeking a greater stake in the Indian energy sector. Russia awarded Modi carefully overlooking his party’s strong anti-Moscow standpoint during the Cold War era when India was tilted towards the Soviet Union under the Congress Party’s rule.
While Modi praises the present India-Russia bilateral relationship, ironically it was his bete noire Jawaharlal Nehru, whom he blames every day for his own failures, who laid the foundation of the India-Soviet alliance that transformed into the present-day India-Russia relationship. The irony doesn’t end here; it’s also an irony that Modi’s Hindutva fascist party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), its precursor Bharatiya Jan Sangh and its parental body Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) have been staunch opponents of India’s non-alignment policy during the Cold War period and advocated joining the US imperialism-led block against the Soviet Union. They have been vocal opponents of India-Soviet alliance and played the role of the US pawn during the volatile 1960s and 1970s.
Actually, both RSS and the BJP found their relevance in Indian politics after the Soviet influence started waning from 1985 onwards. By 1990-91, when the Soviet Union was at the brink of collapse, the BJP experienced a meteoric rise, riding on the roughshod of the Ram Mandir movement, which turned the party into a major political force in India. After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, and India, orphaned due to the loss of a patriarch that had supported it with capital and loans, embraced neo-liberal economic order under the IMF and World Bank’s pressure, the BJP became a prominent force in the country’s political arena. It’s not a coincidence that the Babri Masjid demolition and the subsequent anti-Muslim pogrom took place soon after the Soviet Union’s collapse and India’s tilting to the GATT and neo-liberal framework set by the US.
After coming to power in 1998, the NDA under Atal Bihari Vajpayee tried to woo both the US and Russia to begin a new era of India’s post-Cold War diplomacy. Soon after courting with the then American president Bill Clinton, Vajpayee extended an olive branch to Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2000, when the latter ascended to power by ousting the rarely-sober American puppet Boris Yeltsin. It was the time when BJP strengthened its ties with the Russians and the Indian government signed a strategic partnership agreement with Putin, to balance India’s considerable tilting towards the US-led imperialist block. Since then, the bonhomie between the Indian rulers and the Russians, as well as between the BJP and Putin’s bandwagon became stronger.
The Putin-Modi affair
Under the new strategic partnership, the top leaders of the two countries meet every year to discuss trade, commerce, strategic alliance etc. Russia tries to sell as much as to Indian defence, energy, space and other sectors during these summits. As the Russian economy grew more than 600% in the Putin years vis-a-vis the post-Soviet years under Yeltsin, the interest of Russia to establish its hegemony in a unipolar world controlled by the US grew stronger. Russia started flexing muscle against the US’s solo hegemony from the mid-2000s and by 2013-14, its confrontation with the west reached a new height, though a visibly weak Moscow stayed aloof from taking any adventurist position, even though it played a key role in annexing Crimea and supporting the Bashar al-Assad government against terrorists sponsored by the US in Syria.
India signed several agreements with the US and its allies like the Zionist Israel to appease the US imperialist masters and to gain a prominent place in world politics. India signed several agreements and defence partnership deals, including the 123 Nuclear Deal, the LEMOA, etc, to strengthen its ties with the US. A frantic Russia jumped into the fray to retain its business interests in India, especially by bagging new defence deals and by signing major nuclear treaties with the Indian government, investing a huge amount of money in Tamil Nadu’s Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant.
For Russia, Modi was a yes man during his tenure as the chief minister of Gujarat. At a time when the major western countries, including the US, imposed a travel ban on Modi for his role in the 2002 Gujarat pogrom, Russia strengthened its ties with his government over trade and commerce. Moscow, sharing the common Islamophobic agenda with Modi and his coterie, also vouched for his greater role in Indian politics and economic management, expecting the megalomaniac ruler to return the favours. Allowing the crony-comprador fundraisers of Modi like Adani, Ambani, etc, to have a greater pie of business in Russia, Kremlin opened an immense opportunity for itself in Gujarat.
Soon after Modi became the prime minister and the US and its allies withdrew the travel ban on him and recognised him, Russia started ensuring that it’s not left behind in the race. Modi’s incessant privatisation drive, his unapologetic appeasement of foreign capital and hobnobbing with the US ruling clique didn’t deter his attempts at improving ties with Russia. Despite increasing defence tie-ups with the US and Zionist Israel, Modi and his regime kept the doors ajar for Russia. The bilateral trade improved in Russia’s favour significantly during the Modi years.
Business Standard reported on 22 May 2018:
India’s bilateral trade with Russia rose to $9.53 billion in the first 11 months of 2017-18, from the $7.48 billion of 2016-17. While trade has grown for the past two years, it has been heavily in favour of Russia. Of the $7.63 billion worth of imports from Russia, diamonds – processed or otherwise – and refined petroleum oil make up for the lion’s share.
The other side of the story shows the falling stakes of Russia in India’s defence imports. Russian share of Indian defence imports in the Congress-ruled 2009-13 was 76%, in the Modi years, its share fell to 58% between 2014-18. Though Russia has sold more weapons to India in six months than what the US sold in the last 10 years, it’s going through a problematic phase. With the Donald Trump-led US administration applying sanctions on Russia using the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), it became hard for Moscow to sell its weapons to global markets. India, which managed to get a waiver from the CAATSA due to its volume of business with the US, is going to buy the S-400 Triumf air defence missile systems from Russia for the Indian Air Force.
Having Modi on its side to keep the opportunity for the entrance of Russian defence equipment in the ever-growing Indian defence basket is a crucial mission for Kremlin and its oligarchs. The US military-industrial complex and its European lackeys are trying hard to desist Modi from buying Russian weapons, however, Putin and his coterie of weapon sellers have been generous towards both Modi and the BJP to ensure the supply line never dries and Moscow can continue to earn something from a major defence market like India, even if it loses its hegemonic position. With 100% FDI allowance in defence manufacturing under the Make in India programme, the Russian capital is entering in multiple projects and it’s partnering with multiple unscrupulous indigenous parties secretly and openly under Modi’s patronage.
The great energy scam
All these bilateral defence and trade deals wouldn’t have fetched Modi the Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle the First-Called alone if they weren’t supplemented with the major Russian oil deals that hurt the public sector company ONGC immensely and benefited Russia.
A detailed report by Scroll.in showed how the Modi-Putin camaraderie that started from 2014 made Indian public sector oil companies to pay a higher amount to Kremlin-controlled Rosneft when it sold its 49.9% stakes in the Vankor oilfield in the northern parts of eastern Siberia. According to experts, the public sector oil companies, including ONGC Videsh, paid a much higher price for the Vankor oil fields, which even went above what these companies initially pegged the value of the deal at.
Reuters showed how the Russian oil giant Rosneft in turn rescued Essar Oil from bankruptcy in October 2016 by purchasing its Vadinar refinery and fuel pump network for Rs 720 billion, and it also spent an additional Rs 133 billion to purchase the adjacent port and related infrastructure. This deal took place in Gujarat ruled by Modi’s protege and is so far the largest foreign acquisition in India and Russia’s largest outbound energy deal.
By helping Rosneft to earn a huge amount from the Vankor oilfield deal and by then routing the Russian company to rescue a company like Essar Oil, which had been mired in sheer crisis in Gujarat, the Modi regime has helped both Russia and Essar to thrive while bleeding ONGC Videsh and other public sector oil companies that had been forced to invest for the sake of the prime minister’s commitment to the Russian president.
If Russia can survive its economic meltdown by surmounting the barriers of sanctions that the US imperialism has imposed on it, then it needs allies like Modi, who can balance the act of imperialist servility by appeasing both Washington DC and Moscow at the same time with equal ease. For Russia to keep Modi in its favour, the India-Russia friendship commemoration isn’t enough to reiterate; Kremlin needs Modi back to the steering as much would Donald Trump and his Democrat opponents like Modi’s fan Tulsi Gabbard.
By bestowing its highest civilian award upon Modi, Russia didn’t prove that he has done something extraordinary as a statesman in strengthening the already strong partnership between the two countries. Rather, this award, along with a series of such awards bestowed upon Modi, proves that he is indeed a conman in the attire of a prime minister, trying to promote the interests of all big foreign and domestic corporations in India, especially those selling weapons, energy, etc. Irrespective of how the BJP projects this accolading of Modi, it’s imperative that the democratic, patriotic and progressive opposition forces unmask the reality by showing how the Modi regime is compromising India’s interests for the sake of profiteering by the corporate houses that fill the coffers of the BJP.