Chennai – India is proving to be a major international crossroads in global diplomacy this season of war. It is located at the intersection of two axes: the one that pushes for “multilateralism” sponsored by the BRICS summits (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), and that of the anti-Chinese Asian strategic front of the Quadrilateral (Australia, Japan, USA and India ) which counts India among democracies against the pressures of autocracies. It is therefore not surprising that Delhi is the destination of heavy visits from foreign ministers, prime ministers and presidents. The premier Narendra Modi he sees himself being pulled by the jacket from London, Brussels, Moscow, even Beijing, the WHO and finally also the FAO, which hopes that the storage of Indian granaries will help to cope with the serious crisis in the supply of food in the world.
The British Prime Minister is arriving in Delhi today Boris Johnson. After postponing the trip twice due to Covid, the British leader brings many promises. To begin with, 1.20 billion in investments that should create 11,000 jobs in the United Kingdom as well as an agreement that should increase trade to 33.7 billion euros by 2035. However, on the subject of the Indian non-conviction in the UN headquarters at the war of Vladimir Putin in Ukraine, Johnson “will not give lessons to anyone,” aware of the former colony’s irritability towards the tones of superiority of the former colonizers.
Johnson dismisses it: “It is essential that democracies and friends remain united as we face threats to our peace and prosperity from autocratic states.” Yesterday, Johnson traveled to India’s fifth largest state, Gujarat, the first visit by a British prime minister.
Shortly after Johnson’s departure on April 24, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyenwill visit Delhi for two days meeting Modi, the president Ram Nath Kovind and participating in the conference on geopolitics of the Indian foreign ministry, the Raisina dialogues. Von der Leyen comes to talk about free trade, investment protection, geographical issues, cooperation in defense and the fight against climate change, but also about the crisis caused by the Russian war.
This visit also serves as a reminder that the European Union was the largest foreign investor from 2015 to 2020, bringing together 16 per cent of the sector’s total. The EU invested 83 billion euros in India from 2000 to 2021, a period in which the trade in goods between Europe and India increased by 41% and trade in services by 76%. In short, there are 4,000 and 500 European companies in India that generate 1.5 million jobs plus, indirectly, another 5 million jobs. Russia will also be important for its dependence on arms imports in defense of the nuclear powers in the north (Pakistan and China), but for the investments that employ Indians, the European Union is where it should be aimed.
And it is also to mend the image of this India between the two worlds, the democratic one and the so-called “multipolar” one wanted by the two Eurasian autocracies, China and Russia, that Prime Minister Modi is planning, after the dialogues in the coming days at Delhi, to travel to Europe between 1 and 5 May to meet counterpart Olaf Schultz in Germany, and discuss agreements with Scandinavian nations in Denmark. Modi also wants to stop in Paris, depending on the results of the ballot in France, as there is no guarantee that he will meet Emmanuel Macron at the Elysée.
But to remember the pro-Russian association of the Indian government, on Tuesday came the double-edged praise of the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrovin an exclusive to the newspaper “India Today”To which he stated that S Jaishankar, the Indian foreign minister met three weeks ago in Delhi, “is a true patriot of his country for saying ‘we will make the decision for our nation on the basis of what India believes are its needs for the development of its safety.’ There aren’t many countries that are capable of saying such a thing. India is a very, very old friend of ours. Some time ago we defined the relationship as ‘a strategic partnership.’ And 20 years ago India said, ‘Why don’t we call it’ strategically privileged partnership, ‘and shortly thereafter it added:’ let’s call it an especially privileged strategic partnership, ‘unique description of our bilateral relationship. “
But apart from the networks that Lavrov has woven to hold on to Indian neutrality in this delicate international diplomatic game, another scenario opens up that sees India once again at the center of global interests: the supply of food. In fact, Modi recently reported to the American president Joe Biden the willingness to cover the supply of wheat, rice and other raw materials interrupted by the war in Ukraine. “If the World Trade Organization allows us, we are ready to supply food to the whole world starting tomorrow,” Modi said.
Food prices were already at all-time highs before the war, having reached their highest peaks since 1990 (source Fao). Russia and Ukraine are the largest exporters of wheat since, combined, they account for 30 per cent of annual sales, as well as 55 per cent of sunflower oil and 17 per cent of corn and barley. Together, they were supposed to export 14 million tons of wheat and 16 million tons of corn. Everything now blocked.
“India could intervene by exporting more, especially since it has enough grain reserves,” he said Upali Galketi Aratchilage, of the FAO in Rome. In fact, India is the second largest producer of rice and wheat in the world. This month it holds 74 million tons in storage, of which 21 million as strategic reserves for the public distribution system to provide food to its 700 million poor. It already exports rice and wheat to 68 countries, but for a total, in 2020-2021, of only 7 million tons. Its export potential in 2022 could be 22 million tons of rice and 16 million tons of wheat, thus covering the hole created by the war. It would be the only way, for now, to stem the alarm raised by the FAO: due to the price and distribution crisis, the undernourished population in the world risks increasing by 62%, from 8 million people to 13 million: another point of concern a force which India could take advantage of to maintain ambiguous neutrality in the clash between democracies and autocrats.