Jaishankar — India’s indispensable top diplomat

Jaishankar — India’s indispensable top diplomat

Taking potshots at S Jaishankar’s follies and foibles comes easy because his reflexes are quick and impulsive at times, but his five-year balance sheet does stand out because of his rare capacity for fine-tuning, and even course correction.

Follow Us :

Last Updated : 12 June 2024, 05:22 IST

India’s diplomacy will gain if External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, 69, still plays squash. His reappointment in the new government suggests that Prime Minister Narendra Modi values his agility, flexibility, and firmness combined with the stamina of a long-distance runner. 

Taking potshots at Jaishankar’s follies and foibles comes easy because his reflexes are quick and impulsive at times, but at the end of the day, his five-year balance sheet does stand out because of his rare capacity for fine-tuning and even course correction. The Palestine issue is a glorious example.

Who is the ‘real’ Jaishankar, his peer group must be wondering. Jaishankar is Modi’s alter-ego. His memorable five-day visit to Russia in the winter of 2023 bears testimony to the paradox that this choreographer of United States-India ties has figured out the magnitude of Modi’s foreign-policy legacy. Russian President Vladimir Putin received Jaishankar.

Going forward, Indian diplomacy will be more Russia-centric than ever before in this century — contrary to an entrenched domestic opinion that its manifest destiny is as a ‘counterweight’ to China, and a cog in the wheel of Washington’s Indo-Pacific strategy. 

The Nijjar-Pannun episode and the encounter with the Five Eyes have been a much-needed reality check on the residual unipolar predicament in the Indian mindset. To be sure, Modi’s choice of the National Security Adviser (NSA) will be keenly watched, for, muscular diplomacy is about the exercise of ‘smart power’ that can only be practised by people who understand the selective usage of hard power to meet the national objectives. On this score, Ajit Doval acquitted himself as an effective NSA. On the whole, India’s external and internal security situation is stable and predictable. This created diplomatic space for Jaishankar to operate optimally — i.e., until the Five Eyes entered as a compelling presence. 

There are time-tested reasons for nurturing the friendship with Russia as of pivotal importance for the national strategies. What New Delhi must get straight is that the outcome of the war in Ukraine will define India’s external environment for the foreseeable future. Here, the axiomatic postulate as of now is that none of the protagonists — the US and its NATO allies on one side and Russia on the other — is in a tearing hurry to end the war.

Certainly, this war is existential for Russia, which it cannot afford to lose — and it will not. A settlement will have to be largely on Moscow’s terms as regards Ukraine’s neutralisation and demilitarisation, territorial adjustments, and the emergent ground realities. During the current offensive in 2024 alone, Russian forces took control of an additional 800 square kms of territory. On June 9, Chechen Spetsnaz (special forces) crossed the border from Russia’s Kursk region and in a lightning operation, liberated the town of Ryzhevka in the Sumy Region, opening a new front to the north of the Kharkov Region. 

What sort of Russia will be emerging out of the Ukraine war? Succinctly put, there is no question that Russia is back as a great military power with 1.15 million active-duty personnel and close to two million reservists — highly trained and battle-hardened. Russia’s defence industry is at its creative best in innovation and technology upgrade. The economy is growing and has surpassed Germany to become the fourth biggest in GDP

Significantly, ultra-hawkish US senator Lindsey Graham blurted out in an interview with CBS News that ‘Ukraine is home to $12 trillion of critical minerals. I don’t want to give this money and these assets to Putin…’ The reference is to the resource-rich Donbass annexed by Russia. Much of Ukraine’s mineral wealth lies in the east and south.

Frankly, Graham’s figures are somewhat dated. According to the Canadian geopolitical risk firm SecDev sourced in a Washington Post report, “at least $12.4 trillion worth of Ukraine’s energy deposits, metals and minerals are now under Russian control… In addition to 63 percent of the country’s coal deposits, Moscow has seized 11 percent of its oil deposits, 20 percent of its natural gas deposits, 42 percent of its metals and 33 percent of its deposits of rare earth and other critical minerals including lithium.” Ironically, the Washington Post reported this in August 2022 and every single day since then had a multiplier effect! 

All wars end in peace settlements. Russia is transforming phenomenally as a unique raw-material mother lode for the world economy for decades to come. This creates a solid basis for trade and technology between the third and fourth global economies.

(M K Bhadrakumar is a former diplomat.)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.


Follow us on :

Follow Us