By Yashwant Raj
Washington, Oct 1 (IANS): Was Prime Minister Narendra Modi's rebuke of Russian President Vladimir Putin in Samarkand a well thought out expression of frustration with the latter's continuing war against Ukraine and the awkward position it had put India in with regard to the US-led west?
Or, was it a 'natural' outcome of the two leaders meeting for the first time in more than nine months in person, with a bulging binder of global and bilateral issues to talk and discuss?
"I know that today's era is not of war and we have spoken to you many times on the phone that democracy, diplomacy and dialogue are such things that touch the world," Modi told Putin in Samarkand on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit on September 16.
Modi's remarks to Putin had an electrifying impact on the US and western leaders. Some took it as a signal that Putin had just lost one of his two biggest allies. And the other, China's Xi Jinping, was also uneasy as he reportedly conveyed a similar message to the Russian leader, but privately.
A few days later, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Modi's remarks were "very much welcomed by the United States". Earlier this week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during a presser with Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, "We could not agree more."
Even the American lawmakers took note.
Modi made it "clear to Putin's face that the invasion is wrong", said Ro Khanna, an Indian Democratic member of the House of Representatives.
Khanna was extremely critical of India's refusal to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine and its continuing import of Russian oil.
Modi's remarks changed the narrative that had taken root in the US that India and China were Russia's biggest enablers and that as long as Putin has Modi and Xi by his side, he would be able to withstand the US-led western sanctions and would be reluctant to end his invasion of Ukraine.
But to say Modi kind of stumbled upon a significant development such as this -- because the two leaders had not met in a while and they really had a lot to talk about, and Ukraine naturally must have been at the top of the agenda -- is difficult to digest.
The Prime Minister was clear: This is not the time -- the era -- of war and that it must be settled through dialogue and diplomacy, and, he made it clear, this was a conversation the two of them have had several times on phone.
And now, for reasons that remain unclear, the Prime Minister decided to convey the same message publicly and to Putin's face, with TV cameras trained on them, recording their every expression and gesture.
Modi's remarks were consistent with the stated Indian position that hostilities must cease immediately and that territorial integrity and sovereignty of all must be respected as per the UN charter.
And they did not mark departure from or a reversal of India's position, but, once again, to deliver the same message directly to the Russian leader publicly was a significant move, one which probably paved the way for an extremely productive US visit for Jaishankar.