During a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told Russian President Vladimir Putin, “Today’s era is not an era of war, and I have spoken to you on the phone about this,” and added that “democracy, diplomacy and dialogue kept the world together”. This remark by PM Modi has been interpreted by the West as a “public rebuke” by the Indian premier who has so far steered clear of making any statement that could be viewed as a public criticism of the Russian President for Moscow’s military operation against Ukraine. Some commentators and foreign policy analysts went one step further and interpreted the remark as an indication of India changing its stance vis-à-vis the Russian invasion against Ukraine.
French President Emmanuel Macron and US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan cited this remark urging Putin to end the war. Macron even went to the extent of saying that those countries which have chosen to be “neutral” and “non-aligned” are “mistaken” and have a historical responsibility to speak out. “Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India, was right when he said the time is not for war. It is not for revenge against the West, or for opposing the West against the East. It is the time for a collective time for our sovereign equal states. To cope together with challenges we face,” Macron went on to say at UNGA. What Macron’s statements highlight was the West’s eagerness to somehow send out a message to Russia that India is on their side in publicly condemning Moscow. In fact, both the French President and the US NSA saw in the PM’s remarks a much-awaited opportunity to exactly do the same. With this in mind, the West started misinterpreting what PM Modi said during the bilateral meeting with Putin.
To describe PM Modi’s words, “Today’s era is not of war” to Putin as public criticism of Russia or as something that suggests change in India’s stand is absolutely a misinterpretation of the remarks. What the Prime Minister said is completely in sync with India’s stand on Ukraine. PM Modi has been asking for cessation of violence right from day one. He has been telling the Russian President Putin in all his telephonic talks that there should be immediate cessation of violence and the problems should be resolved through dialogue and diplomacy. They have spoken at least four times in the last six months where the Prime Minister has called for cessation of hostilities and advocated the path of diplomacy and dialogue. This is what PM Modi underlined again during talks with Putin in Uzbekistan. Where is any change of stand then? What the West chose to ignore was a significant part of PM Modi’s statement in which the Indian leader clearly said that “I have spoken to you (Putin) about this (the need for restoration of peace)”. Ever since the war broke out, PM Modi has been emphasising on restoration of peace, end of violence, and dialogue and diplomacy. So, it’s in sync with the Indian position that has been reiterated time and again.
Whenever the West pressured India to join them to condemn Russia, New Delhi clearly said that it is on the side of peace. India has maintained that its approach will be driven also by national interest. Amid the growing pressure by the western countries on India to be critical of Russia, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar on various platforms and during several bilateral and multilateral meetings has been telling the West unequivocally that India was, is and will be on the side of peace. That is exactly what PM Modi did when he said that this is not the era of war. The India premier has been reminding the world of the terrible cost of the conflict while reaffirming India’s stand pitching for cessation of violence. India did not show any hitch while condemning the Bucha massacre in Ukraine and joined various countries in demanding a probe into it. India voted twice to allow Ukraine President Zelensky to address the UN bodies. India also reached out to Ukraine with humanitarian assistance as well. So, India cannot also be viewed as showing any tilt towards Russia amid the violence. India has always been on the right side.
Therefore, the PM’s comments need to be seen in the context of India’s position in the last seven months of the war. There is no point in the West viewing PM Modi’s remarks underlining the need for peace as India changing its stand and choosing to join the bloc in its raft of sanctions against Russia. In the context of the ongoing situation in Ukraine, Prime Minister, in fact, reiterated India’s long-standing position in favour of dialogue and diplomacy.