On 7 April 2021, the US Navy conducted a ‘navigation operation’ within Indian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) without any intimation to India. To add insult to injury, the US 7th Fleet openly officially admitted the maneuver, saying, “On April 7, 2021 (local time) USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53) asserted navigational rights and freedoms approximately 130 nautical miles West of the Lakshadweep Islands, inside India’s EEZ, without requesting India’s prior consent, consistent with international law.” It further stated the operation was important in “challenging India’s excessive maritime claims”. This incident has sent a shockwave in India which saw itself as an indispensable ally to the US.
A famous quote of John F Kennedy comes to mind “Those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside”. It exemplifies the price of power to be paid by those who tried to bandwagon with those more powerful than themselves. While Kennedy used this quote at the height of the Cold War to highlight the plight of those countries who tried to gain power by joining the Communist Bloc and thus opening themselves to domination by authoritarian communist governments, it could be valid for those who allied themselves to the US as well.
India is one such country who despite portraying itself as an preeminent world power due to it being an “external civilization”, has always strived to team up with various global powers to advance its own lust for influence. After its creation in 1947, India chose a duplicitous policy of “Nonalignment “while exploiting fears of both the Western and Communist blocs in order to pursue a hegemonic agenda in South Asia. After the end of the Cold War, India started ingratiating itself more and more with the victorious United States in order to cement its brutal role Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu & Kashmir (IIOJ&K) and also dampen global opposition to human right abuses in its territories.
With the start of the new millennium, India began to utilize the forum of the Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa (BRICS) as a means to exploit the emerging multipolar order while still also using the US in order to abuse the waning unipolar moment for its own ends. The rise of Modi regime in 2014 saw an even more shift towards the West particularly the US perhaps in order to stave off the pre-eminence of China in Asia. Despite the forum of BRICS and Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) available, the clashes with China highlights that India has always pursued an agenda of playing both sides. India has always seen itself as a nation too valuable that no power would dare antagonize it.
This is perhaps where the Modi government has miscalculated its importance. Viewing itself crucial to any power wanting to rise on the global stage it embarked on the path of breaking international norms through the illegal annexation of the Occupied territory of Kashmir. This brought conflict with not only Pakistan but China as well with whom India clashed in disputed region of Ladakh. India was pushed back with huge loss of life, territory, internal image and global stature with minimal damage to the Chinese. This loss was cemented when India meekly agreed to a new disengagement agreement with China.
New Delhi decided to push back using the US as a backer and patron by trying to latch on to US efforts to contain China in the Indo Pacific region. New Delhi began to portray itself as the bedrock of the Quad alliance and also strove to interfere in the South China Sea by making tall claims of having sent ships to challenge China’s sovereign claims under the aegis of the US’s “Rules Based Order.” This policy shift not only angered the Chinese but also riled Russia as well who had been India’s primary backers since 1947.
But apparently this strategy has backfired massively when India found itself on the receiving end of the American “Rules Based Order”. While India has protested by passing its concerns to the United States, the fact of the matter was given by Manoj Joshi, a distinguished Fellow at the premier Indian Think tank Observer Research Foundation, that “taking on the US on the issue is not an option.” It could be taken that India has simply abandoned its maritime claims without the firing of a single shot. This is a repeat of Indian surrender of sovereignty when it let go of its claimed territory in Ladakh to China. In the end it can be said that India’s double dealing and hegemonic designs have led it down a dead end where now it has no option but to surrender its sovereignty to foreign powers.