He might have been breaking bread with some of Europe’s most high-profile and progressive leaders but Narendra Modi’s charm offensive in Europe this week didn’t impress his political opponents at home. As India’s prime minister bounced from one stage to another in Berlin and Copenhagen, waxing lyrical about his native country during his signature gigs with fawning members of the Indian diaspora, opposition parties in India condemned Modi. They believe that he is papering over the cracks wrought by punishing inflation and ongoing strife between religious communities in India.
Modi says that his trip boosted trade and investment ties and forged new green partnerships. But his whirlwind visit to Europe was really for the West, which has expressed disappointment that the world’s largest democracy – albeit no stranger to autocratic neighbours – has not explicitly condemned Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. India’s abstentions during crucial UN votes to punish Russia have raised eyebrows. And in March, in a rare expression of differences of opinion between India and the US, Joe Biden singled out India as being “somewhat shaky” on Russia. Modi was conscious this week that his German and Nordic hosts might harbour the same view. “No country can emerge victorious in the Ukraine conflict,” he said. “We are for peace, appeal to end the war.”
Shaky ground indeed: India has to tread a fine line between the West and Russia, one of its oldest allies and a major supplier of weapons for which training and replacement parts are regularly needed. Modi will be hoping that where his loose words on Russia fall short, his expansive bear hugs and natural ebullience will keep the West off his case. Judging from the beaming smiles captured in manicured photo ops with German, French and Nordic leaders, including Emmanuel Macron (pictured, on left, with Modi), during this trip, he might even be right.
Lyndee Prickitt is Monocle’s New Delhi correspondent.