Editorial: Shaky ground
As the war in Ukraine continues unabated, and the fault lines deepen between Russia and China on the one hand and the West and its allies on the other, India is under mounting pressure to lean one way or the other. In particular, its role as a member of the Quad, which also includes the United States of America, Japan and Australia, is under scrutiny. While the US has led the campaign to impose the toughest sanctions in modern history against Russia, Australia and Japan have joined in by levying strict economic penalties of their own against Moscow. India is the only member of the Quad that has not condemned Russia outright. That isolation within the informal grouping was underlined this week when the US president, Joe Biden, described India as “somewhat shaky” on the Ukraine crisis, while pointing out how united the rest of America’s friends were in taking on Russia. On Monday, Australia’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, held a virtual summit with India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi. Last weekend, Mr Modi hosted Japan’s prime minister, Fumio Kishida. Ukraine figured in both those conversations but India’s position meant that the joint statements issued at the end of those meetings were tame in their denunciation of the war launched by Russia.
In theory, none of this should affect the functioning of the Quad or India’s place in it. The primary focus of the gathering of four Indo-Pacific democracies is on China and on providing a strategic and economic counterforce to Beijing’s increasingly aggressive moves. Seen from this perspective, differences over Russia should not matter. But Mr Biden’s comment is a reminder that the world does not function in such neat silos. India’s reluctance to play a bigger role over Ukraine has also sparked questions among other Quad members about whether New Delhi might sit on the fence if Beijing were to similarly attack one of its neighbours. Mr Biden’s reference to New Delhi’s position right after talking about NATO suggests that Washington expects Quad members to behave in ways that allies are expected to act. As India ramps up the import of cheap oil from Russia, New Delhi will face further efforts to make it bend. It must not. Instead, it must remind others that any friction within the four members only helps China. Ultimately, the Quad needs India just as much as India needs the Quad.