Having successfully established strategic autonomy as foreign policy, India may have felt emboldened to speak a few home truths
East is East and West is West (and never the twain shall meet)”, lamented Rudyard Kipling. The world has come some way since the heyday of colonisation in which those words were written. And yet it is far from a perfect world that we live in today, despite the lessons of tolerance, diversity and inclusivity learned along the way into the modern era.
In today’s world, change East to North and West to South and the problem will remain the same as told in Kipling’s ballad, except that interaction is a global necessity like never before. India, once the clear outlier with non-alignment as its foreign policy peg, is today a bridge between the North and the South, and acknowledged to be so by US President Joe Biden when speaking to the UN General Assembly where he praised India for helping to establish a new economic pathway.
It is against this background that external affairs minister S. Jaishankar’s diatribe against the world being very much one of “double standards” must be viewed. Having successfully established strategic autonomy as foreign policy, India may have felt emboldened to speak a few home truths about the resistance to change that the Global North, led by the siren of the free world in the United States and comprising its Western allies, is exhibiting.
In the time of seasonally activated talking shops of the world, as in Brics, G-20 and the UN General Assembly all having met this month and in the last, it is not unusual to hear verbal salvoes from all directions.
While that may in part explain the timing of the EAM’s strong condemnation of attitudes displayed by the older economic powerhouses, it did seem jarring that he should rake this up after India had played such a positive role in steering the West away from its preoccupation with condemnation of the Ukraine invasion and getting it to collectively hear the problems of the South at the G-20.
The voice of India, as the bulwark and counterweight to China, had prevailed to the extent that a resolve to change pathways and take a new look at international debt and ways to bring in fair financing methods for poorer nations to meet sustainable development goals as well as reorient West-controlled entities like the IMF and the World Bank was spoken of at the G-20 summit.
Such resolve might not have been extended yet to the early polluters becoming willing to pay for mitigation measures for climate change caused by global warming and moving away from fossil fuels.
Where India might feel the burden of the West’s double standards is in the Canada standoff over the assassination of Sikh separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar, with US secretary of state Antony J. Blinken bringing it up in a manner as if US was directly blaming India in airing its concern over incidents of “transnational repression”.
For the US to turn sanctimonious about “extra-territorial killings” after having led the world in such acts across continents, from Latin America to West Asia and the Middle East through Afghanistan, and Pakistan too in the retribution killing of Osama bin Laden, is to reek of the same “double standards” that India’s minister brought about in his voluble and yet studious style.