India’s choices at the BRICS summit explained by WION

The BRICS nations consisting of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, are gathered in South Africa for a summit that carries the potential to define the bloc’s future and its determination to challenge a world order it views as tilted in favour of the West. The summit is missing Russian President Vladimir Putin, as South Africa faces potential obligations to detain him over alleged war crimes in Ukraine. India and China, both members of the group, are dealing with a border conflict. China finds itself in a complicated relationship with the US, while New Delhi maintains close bonds with Washington.

This year’s summit is a big test for Indian diplomacy as two predominant themes taking centre stage are the urge for expansion and a drive towards adopting a shared currency, both of which present challenges for India. As the bloc seeks to rebalance global power, experts warn that it may adopt a more pronounced geopolitical stance, especially with China and Russia hoping to garner its support amid escalating tensions with the West – a prospect that could be advanced through its expansion.

There are conjectures that China and Russia are keen to welcome new members who would introduce an anti-Western perspective. Concerns also exist that the bloc’s expansion could draw in nations that perceive BRICS as a counterforce to the European Union and the United States, which India and Brazil both oppose. But is that indeed the scenario?

“China will not project BRICS as anti-Western because China is delicately calibrating its relations with the US in the wake of domestic economic challenges, though Russia surely has a direct interest in forming an anti-Western grouping,” Dr Geeta Kochhar, Assistant Professor, Centre for Chinese and South East Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) told WION.

“China also seems to be the counterbalance Russia faces amidst the Russia-Ukraine war, and hence would not want to directly upset the West to avoid any sanctions from the Western world.” Additionally, India also cannot prevent countries backed by China and Russia, like Iran, from joining the bloc, as India and Iran have

What is India’s stance?

In the complex world of geopolitics, India’s current strategic choices are anything but straightforward. The question that looms large is where India truly fits into the ever-evolving global geopolitical puzzle. Some Western perspectives tend to scrutinise India’s participation in groups like BRICS and the SCO, especially in light of the Ukraine conflict and the Western-Russia standoff.

A frequently raised question is: Is it feasible for India to actively engage in the Quad, which includes Australia, Japan, the US, and India, while concurrently maintaining its significance within the G-20, G-7, BRICS, SCO, and the broader global South?

“India is talking the rhetoric of multipolarity, but what multipolarity are we talking about?,” questioned Dr Manish Dabhade, founder, The Indian Futures, a New Delhi based independent think tank.  “India is certainly contesting Chinese unipolarity in Asia and the Indo-Pacific. That’s precisely why India opposes the BRICS currency; it’s not inclined towards even regional trading currencies. There’s also an economic rationale behind this stance,” he told WION.

Currently, over 50 per cent of all global transactions are conducted in US dollars, while the Chinese Renminbi (RMB) accounts for just 3-4 per cent, and at most, it might increase to 4-5 per cent, which is a marginal shift, he pointed out. “The notion propagated by BRICS that they are de-dollarising the global economy is unlikely to materialise, at least not in the next 10-20 years.”

India is speaking the language of multilateralism, but it has largely chosen its side. The broader trajectory is shifting towards a closer alignment with the West, encompassing the US, Europe, and France, added Dabhade. India has also been contesting all of China’s unfair trade practices, including its withdrawal from RCEP and China’s inundation of Indian markets with their goods. However, primarily, it was about strategically countering China, he said. There is an international climate now that is openly against China due to its expansionist agenda in Asia and the Indo-Pacific. This is the reason for the resounding calls to de-risk and decouple from China.

Non–alignment to multi-alignment?

India is also walking the tightrope of multi-alignment, as noted by Dr Dabhade, while quoting Indian politician Shashi Tharoor.

“Somewhere, in some places, we are going to be with RIC (Russia, India, China trilateral) or even BRICS. However, India is also a part of the QUAD and has close bilateral relations with the US and France at the highest levels. But the larger eggs are in the American basket. India cannot simply walk out of BRICS because it still depends on Russian defence imports,” explained Dr Dabhade.

The contemporary geopolitical puzzle confronting New Delhi is far from a walk in the park: it involves India’s need to establish a strong presence in non-Western global platforms like BRICS and the SCO, counterbalancing the ever-expanding influence of China within these arenas, and simultaneously juggling Western normative standards while carving out a space for itself in Eurocentric gatherings like the UNSC and the G-7.

All of this demands a delicate and multitasking approach, which Dr Kochhar likes to term “matured diplomacy”. Additionally, India cannot antagonise anyone in a year when it’s hosting the G20 summit.

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