As tension escalates between US and Iran, how is India impacted and what are New Delhi's options?  

WION New Delhi, India Jan 05, 2020, 05.08 PM(IST) Edited By: Sparshita Saxena

File photo: India Gate, New Delhi. Photograph:( Zee News Network )

Story highlights

Looking at India's history with Iran and the current relations with the United States the political dynamics become interesting.

Iran's top military general Qasem Soleimani's killing has sent shockwaves across the world. Diplomatic channels in almost every nation are watching the developments closely.

The Indian government as well has found itself in a tough spot. The immediate fallout before PM Modi and his policy advisers will be managing the spike in global oil prices.

But looking at India's history with Iran and the current relations with the United States the political dynamics become interesting.

The stage upon which this geopolitical conflict was playing out until now has expanded exponentially.

The Shia Muslim population of India have deep cultural, spiritual and historical connections with Tehran. The terms 'Namaz' and 'Khuda Hafiz' find their roots in Persia. 

Interestingly, these protests come at a time when a significant portion of the Muslim community in India is already protesting the Citizenship Amendment Act. 

The Indian government knows that its response to the escalating crisis has to factor in the sentiments of the community at large.

Also read: Meatloaf and ice cream - Trump savoured an all-American meal as Pentagon confirmed Soleimani's killing


Vital interests

India has vital interests in the Middle East. In the Gulf alone, India has close to 9 million residents. This region is a significant source of Indian oil and gas imports as well as remittances, especially to the state of Kerala.

Transit route 

Importantly, India hoped that this region will serve as a transit route to Afghanistan and Central Asia, including through the Iranian port of Chabahar.  India even has a sanction exemption for it from the US.

The balancing act

Perhaps, the biggest challenge for India is to balance the entire act. The government has tried to walk a tightrope over the past few years maintaining ties with Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Israel and being extremely cautious of not antagonising America at the same time. 

US-India ties

The US, unlike in the past, has refrained from appearing hostile toward's prime minister Modi's stance on Pakistan. It did not even condemn India's Balakot strike or the abrogation of article 370 and the Citizenship Amendment Act 

The US is India's second-largest trading partner after China and a superpower which India doesn't want to work against. Especially, after Trump's significant remarks about Soleimani having had a key role in the attack on an Israeli diplomat in Delhi.

For the second time, New Delhi is finding itself at the crossroads due to the ongoing tensions between Iran and Iraq.

us-india ties

Neutral stance

Before the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, India's ties with the country suffered due to the UN sanctions on Iraq. But India soon developed trade within the oil-for-food program, which permitted Iraq to export oil for essential goods.

After the US invasion of Iraq, India maintained a neutral stance and had even condemned military action against Iraq but later almost joined the coalition under the US backroom diplomacy only to eventually back off due to public sentiment and opposition protests.


Oil matters

More recently, the US sanctions on Iran have forced India's hand on the most vital commodity - oil. Iran's foreign minister Javad Zarif stated that India must stand up to the bully.

India has managed to make up for the loss of Iranian oil with other imports but PM Modi knows that oil is a commodity that can cause a massive political upheaval in India.