It is quite clear that the Western world wishes to forge closer ties with India. Boris Johnson has gone so far as to invite Narendra Modi, his Indian counterpart to attend this week’s meeting of the G7 in Cornwall. And you only need to see the swathe of headlines over the past few years of various world leaders visiting India with varying levels of pomp and success.
These headlines will invariably be followed by stories of attempts to create closer trading and diplomatic ties to India. These attempts are welcomed by many in India – who see acceptance by Western powers as proof that India is a global power with an important role to play in the geopolitical landscape. It also makes sense for India to seek closer ties with the West when so many of its close neighbours are not the friends and allies that it would perhaps hope for.
To India’s immediate west is Pakistan, a nation that has a shared past under British colonial rule, with whom India has always had a fractious relationship. This relationship is still marred by the ongoing devastating legacy of Partition – which has meant the two nations view each other with hostility and suspicion – not to mention the disputed Kashmir region which sees regular outbreaks of violence. Indeed, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan recently described the idea of normalising relations with India as a “betrayal” of Kashmir.
To India’s north is the looming threat of China – a nation that is always on the lookout for a way to expand its influence and territory. Either through China’s Belt and Road initiative – a true “neocolonial” approach to foreign policy – or through simply building artificial islands and claiming greater and greater territorial waters. It was only last year that war was a distinct possibility between India and China as tens of thousands of soldiers were mobilised on both sides due to rising tension and the deadliest border clashes in over four decades in the disputed border region of Ladakh. Fortunately, earlier this year both sides agreed to a simultaneous military disengagement from the border but, as you might expect, tensions remain high on both sides with it also emerging that the Indian army has plans to reorient a Pakistan-facing strike corps toward the Chinese border.
Given that these two regional powers are not friendly towards India, it makes complete sense for it to reach out to the West to shore up its position. The recent Quad leader summit in March is an affirmation of this westward turn and India has recently embarked upon a new trade deal with post-Brexit Britain.
However, there are clearly still barriers to India’s burgeoning relationship with the West. One of the most important is how India is failing to respect the international rule of law in commerce with several Western companies falling foul of poor practice in India. Several, have now had international tribunals rule in their favour with India on the hook for billions of dollars. The West and India have much to gain from a secure partnership but this can only happen with a foundation of mutual understanding and shared rules. Western leaders gathering at the G7 should remind Mr Modi that if he wants to be part of the Western club of advanced democracies, he must respect the rule of law.