Pakistan’s ascension as a member of SCO is a reason to celebrate. The regional alliance is made on order for us. Pakistan’s inclusion will boost the collective security of member countries and also help us eliminate the terrorist threat for good. There’s one big fly in the SCO soup though, admitted as member the same day as Pakistan. Will the Shanghai spirit be able to pull it out of the soup? Will India be able to dry its wings in the multipolar sun and fly high with the rest of us?
More worrisome than India’s thorny relations with fellow members Pakistan and China is the trajectory of the Modi government that is taking the ‘world’s largest democracy’ straight to the lap of Uncle Sam. What about the US-India nexus in Afghanistan and their joint hybrid war against CPEC? What about LEMOA and other foundational agreements with the US that undermine the very purpose of SCO? Besides, can Eurasian connectivity be built upon the dead bodies of innocent men, women and children of Kashmir?
Some friends are hopeful that the SCO would have a sane influence on Modi’s India. They point at the astute leadership of the regional alliance and the sensible charter of the organization they lead. President Putin and President Xi have emerged as visionary world leaders and, according to these optimistic friends, we can count on them to pull India back from the edge of the cliff and make it see the benefits of regional cooperation and their win-win plans. Other friends insist that India won’t see the light as long as Modi rules the roost.
I have no doubts about the superb leadership qualities of both President Putin and President Xi and the sincerity of their positive vision for the future of our world. If India jumps aboard the SCO-ship whole-heartedly, it would facilitate the stabilization of the region and be a shot in the arm for inter-connectivity and Eurasian integration. People of India stand to benefit tremendously from the multipolar motif of win-win cooperation. The question is: Does Modi care about all that?
Being a die-hard optimist myself, I’d like to hope that inclusion in SCO would spur India to become a responsible member of the emergent multipolar bloc and get down from its high-horse of Hindutva hegemony. I’d like to hope that India would stop auditioning for the role of a Mini-Me hegemon for Uncle Sam and embrace its neighbors as equal partners in the multipolar spirit. But this hope is outweighed by apprehensions about Modi’s India that are too big to ignore.
The Modi government not only refused to participate in the recent Belt & Road summit in Beijing, it is actively subverting projects launched under the initiative; not only in Pakistan to its west, but also in Bangladesh and Myanmar to its east, Nepal in its North and Sri Lanka in its South. It preferred to team up with unipolar Japan to announce parallel infrastructure projects of its own. It is aligned with the US and its puppet government in Afghanistan, the arch-spoilers of peace in the SCO neighborhood. And unfortunately, the problem goes much deeper than these symptoms.
Clearly, Modi’s decisions on these and several other counts that militate against the momentum of regional cooperation are not arbitrary or taken in isolation. They reflect the geo-political orientation of the Modi government and its Hindutva underpinnings. Let’s not mistake it: Modi’s India is driven by dreams of regional hegemony not win-win cooperation. The chauvinistic Hindu nationalism unleashed by him would settle for nothing less.
Actually, the Modi government’s vision for India and its place in the world is a perfect fit for the divisive and violent unipolar worldview. Its Hindutva policies are fanning extremism and intolerance not only across the length and breadth of India but also in the neighborhood. The brutality of repression in Kashmir under Modi is unprecedented, making the peaceful resolution of the dispute more difficult.
Egged on by the US, Modi’s India would like to position itself as a counterweight to China rather than its partner. It is inclined to please Uncle Sam for a place on the imperial table rather than join its neighbors to build collective security for the region. According to the Hindutva ideology, South Asian countries are to be absorbed back into one big Mother India one day in any case, and until that happens, we are all expected to accept our place as vassals of India not its equal partners.
While the SCO aims to contain chaos and instability through regional cooperation on counter-terrorism and security, Modi’s India is actively involved in spreading chaos and instability in the region in partnership with the global badmash. While the multipolar plans of regional connectivity and trade depend on a peaceful neighborhood, the rabid notions of Hindu supremacy and hegemony harbored by the Modi regime can only make the region more volatile. His corporate backers are obviously more interested in dollars than regional harmony.
So, it’s not as simple as President Putin and President Xi convincing Modi to change some of his policies. Of course, India could always decide to distance itself from the US and support Moscow’s initiative on Afghanistan. It could join the Belt & Road Initiative and build the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar corridor. Under the SCO umbrella, it could work with Pakistan to bring peace to Kashmir. But this calls for a fundamental reorientation, a new vision for India and its place in the world. And that is too much to expect from the Modi government.
Even if the Modi-Trump meeting in Washington scheduled for later this month doesn’t bring Modi the dividends he is hoping for, he would take his disappointments in his stride and continue to play the useful idiot to Uncle Sam. He has sunk too deep into his hubris to change his tune. Modi’s India would erode cohesion within the SCO like it did in the case of BRICS. Though I’m a die-hard optimist, I tend to agree with my friends who say that India won’t see the light until Modi rules the roost.
The writer is a freelance columnist.