Why Is India Unable to Criticise the Country That Has Invaded Ukraine?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi told Volodymyr Zelenskyy that he sees the Ukraine crisis as a matter of humanity. But India is unable to criticise the country that’s deliberately breached humanity and human values by invading Ukraine.

This piece was first published on The India Cable – a premium newsletter from The Wire & Galileo Ideas – and has been republished here. To subscribe to The India Cable, click here.

I think India’s position on Ukraine is confused and confusing. I fear we either have not thought through what we’re saying and are simply saying things that sound right or we’re contradicting ourselves and even creating precedents which, if used against us, we’d deeply regret.

This weekend, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine and the G7 grouping to whose meeting he was invited that he sees the Ukraine crisis as a matter of humanity and human values. Sounds good, no doubt. But then how come we are unable to criticise the country that’s deliberately breached humanity and human values by invading Ukraine?

On Sunday the PM said: “It is necessary that all countries respect the UN charter, international law and sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries. Raise your voice together against unilateral attempts to change the status quo.” Again, the perfect thing to say. But guess which country has violated the UN Charter and the sovereignty and integrity of a UN member country? And guess which country has failed to raise its voice?

Earlier, in September, he said this is not an era of war. Again, beautifully put and everyone keeps repeating it. That convinced us it hit the right note. But then why are we unable to criticise the country that started the war? In fact, it’s even more bizarre. We don’t call what’s happening in Ukraine a war. Our PM and external affairs minister adroitly refuse to do so. So if there’s no war – according to us – what’s the significance of saying this is not an era of war? Or are we saying obliquely and very indirectly what we lack the honesty and courage to say directly?

A month later in October, the PM told Zelenskyy on the telephone that there cannot be a military solution to Russia’s invasion. That really perplexed me. First of all, was he now indirectly accepting there’d been an invasion? More importantly, is that what you say to a country that’s been invaded? What does it mean? Either Russia will withdraw without your fighting – which is unimaginable – or grit your teeth and live with what’s happened?

If the Chinese step into our territory and we receive a similar message from the rest of the world would we be happy?

Actually, I fear the answer is yes. They’re currently on our territory in Ladakh and we’ve accepted it. In fact, the government denies it though media reports have repeatedly exposed their denials as cowardly lies.

In June 2020, the PM denied Chinese troops were in or had ever been on our territory. So then did Galwan happen on Chinese territory? Were we trespassing and not them?

And let’s not forget the official reports that we can no longer patrol up to our previously recognised limits in possibly 26 out of 60-odd patrolling points in Ladakh? Those figures are from memory and they may be slightly wrong. Readers can get the precise ones with minimal research.

These are all issues/questions that need answering. And it’s not that they haven’t been asked before. They’ve been raised repeatedly.

Finally, I’m not a specialist in foreign policy so I could be repeating silly questions that only reflect my ignorance or lack of understanding. But these are nonetheless obvious questions that logically – if not irresistibly – arise out of the various statements our PM has made. Also – as I said earlier and will deliberately repeat – I’m not the first to raise them. Many others have, and many times. But all we’ve got is defeating silence. No one in our government feels the need to respond.

This weekend, after the PM’s statements in Japan made them topical all over again, and with our media once again largely, but not entirely, silent and accepting, I thought I’d add my voice to all the earlier ones that spoke out – and often not just with better arguments but also more forcefully – before me.

Like all of you, I’d love some answers. As citizens of the world’s biggest democracy – indeed, the mother of democracies, as we’re now told – we not only deserve one, we’re owed one.

PS: As far as I know only one MP has pointed all of this out – Shashi Tharoor. In an interview with The Wire and also in the Lok Sabha. But, sadly even his party kept quiet. They had nothing to say.