Rearranging the BRICS: 

Rearranging the BRICS

The forum is less about ideological posturing, more about repositioning India in changing great power equations.

India and neighbors

Raja Mandala: Rearranging the BRICS


Building a multipolar world is one of the central themes of India’s foreign policy and BRICS has been the main forum for the pursuit of that objective. But China’s rapid rise has compelled India to rethink the need and virtues of multipolar world

Why is China a problem for India?

  •   China has encroached into and reduced India’s space in the Subcontinent and also in the India Ocean.
  •   It has become a lot more insistent and dominant in the bilateral disputes with India.
  •   BRICS as a whole is been working towards the construction of a “multipolar world”, which for long, was the code word for hedging against American unilateralism.
  •   But now with China’s rising dominance in the world map and with its bullish attitude towards India; construction of “multipolar Asia” or “balancing China” is turning out to be equally important.

What is the historical background?

  •   After the Cold War, India faced a twin challenge – (i) the collapse of the Soviet Union and (ii) re-engaging of India with the United States and the West in order to adapt to the globalizing world.
  •   But at the same time, India was apprehensive about the West’s interventionist policies especially on issues like – human rights, Kashmir and nuclear non-proliferation.
  •   To be able to bear the brunt of negative impact of its fall out from the unipolar world, India chose to attach itself with Russia’s banner for a great “strategic triangle” of eastern powers, involving Russia, China and India, to resist America’s growing power in the post-Cold War world.
  •   This pairing up on part of India, caused serious tension in its engagement with the great American powers.
  •   Indian leaders would stand up in Washington and talk of a “natural alliance” with the sole super power, America. At the same time, India would sit down with Russia and China to call for a “multipolar world.
  •   More than the evident hypocrisy, the problem was about managing multiple contradictions that India was facing with post-Cold War.
  •   The strategic triangle involving India, China and Russia eventually expanded into the BRICS with the inclusion of Brazil and South Africa.

What were the challenges faced by India owing to its engagement in BRICS?

  • As two more countries, joined the forum, the internal environment within the BRICS changed, but the external environment altered the dynamics of the BRICS nation within itself and also with the world and posed a lot many challenges for India.
  • The rise of China dramatically altered the orientation of the BRICS. China’s massive economic weight in the forum — its GDP is now more than twice that of the other four members put together.
  • Thus, the internal balance in the BRICS has changed in favour of Beijing.
  1. For Russia, BRICS was a way of creating political leverage against the United States and the West, but China saw it as an instrument to expand China’s own global economic influence.
  2. The apprehension towards the US led-globalization was one of the major factor for India to vouch for multipolar world, but now its struggling to come in terms with the China led-globalization.
  3. China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which has become the main vehicle for China’s economic power projection, has added to India’s concerns about China’s rise.
  4. India’s engagement in BRICS and its simultaneous deepening strategic partnership with the United States and Japan looked like a friendly peace-preferring gesture from India, till there was no major tensions between the great powers – US, Russia, China and Japan.
  5. It has become difficult for India to maintain its “multi-alignment” as the great power harmony was followed by renewed tensions between them.

What has been India’s strategy towards the issue?

  • In the past, India preferred BRICS over the partnership with the West.
  • At current, it is more inclined towards judging issues by their magnitude and implications for India’s national interest rather than following a presumed ideological correctness and thereby not choosing a side and maintaining a dynamic stand.
  • Given the warmth between Russia and China and both the countries willingness to cut deals with the US on their own terms, India’s concern is now less towards ideological posturing and more about repositioning its position in changing great power equations.

What does this changing scenario imply for India?

  1. India will have to stand up and also stand against (if required) China where necessary and at the same time, cooperate with it wherever possible.
  2. India has to rescue its long-standing partnership with Russia but should also remain aware that Russia has its own imperatives.
  3. It also has to continue deepening strategic ties with the United States but at the same time acknowledge America’s sharp internal divisions.
  4. India also has to gear itself to be prepared to face or undergo compulsions to arrive at compromises with a rising China.

Thus, it’s a transition time for India where it is altering its worldview towards unsentimental realism.

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