File Photo. Photograph:( Zee News Network )
Ever since the inaugural Indo-Russian summit in 2000, led from the Indian side by then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the two countries have enjoyed what was termed a “special and privileged strategic partnership”.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is all set to welcome Russian President Vladimir Putin on October 5 for the 19th Indo-Russian Summit in New Delhi. The last meeting of the two leaders was in Johannesburg on July 26 at the BRICS summit. Earlier, they met in Qingdao in June at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit and at Sochi, on the Black Sea, in May.
The last Indo-Russian summit was held in St Petersburg, Russia on July 31, 2017. It is India’s turn to host this year’s summit. These top-level summits constitute the highest level of diplomatic engagement between India and Russia. Naturally, there are several preparatory and smaller but quite important exchanges in between.
One of these was the “Third International Conference of Indologists” at the St Petersburg State University in April this year. Organised by the Indian Council of Cultural Relations, it explored the theme of Indo-Russian relations in the context of Indological studies. I was present at this conference, moderating a panel, as well as speaking on the fascinating trans-continental and trans-generational Roerich connection with India. In the galaxy of extraordinary figures who contributed to the Indian renaissance, Nicholas Roerich (1874-1947), his wife Helena (1879-1955), their sons, George (1902-1960) and Svetoslav (1904-1993), and the latter’s wife Devika Rani (1908-1994) played important, albeit understudied parts.
The Roerichs, following Nicholas’s and Helena’s combination of the practical and visionary, belonged to a small group of international savants, that also included the seer of Pondicherry, Sri Aurobindo, and his spiritual partner, the Mother (Mira Richard). These yogi-mystics believed in and worked for a fundamental change in human consciousness which would also result in a new global political order. The Roerichs were thus participants in multiple and intersecting narratives involving spirituality, millennial transformation, art, poetry, and, above all, the union of the East and West, as also of the United States, Russia, and India — all in the service of a better future for humanity.
The follow-up of the St Petersburg Indological conference is currently taking place at Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi. Focusing on “India-Russia in the 21st Century: Enhancing the Special Privileged Strategic Partnership,” it brings together ministers, diplomats, economic advisors, and academics. Speaking of the importance of Indo-Russian economic ties at the inaugural session, Dharmendra Pradhan, Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas, said that Russia was India’s top investment destination in the oil and gas sector. “I believe that our time-tested relationship has no expiry date. Russia will always be a priority in India’s foreign and energy policy and both our countries will remain as a role model for global communities,” he added.
Indeed, ever since the inaugural Indo-Russian summit in 2000 led from the Indian side by then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the two countries have enjoyed what was termed a “special and privileged strategic partnership”. This is not surprising because Russia remains India’s largest defence supplier, with several big-ticket deals, including air-defence missiles, frigates, and make-in-India AK-103 assault rifles, under consideration. What is stressed in these smaller meetings leading up to the major summit is a reiteration of the special relationship, strategic, economic, historical, and cultural, that the two powers enjoy.
Arguably, these meetings also signify an attempt on India’s part to rectify its perceived tilt towards the US. India is keen, and rightly so, to emphasise that our growing ties with the latter are not at the expense of our age-old partnership with Russia. After all, it makes much more sense to rely on time-tested partners in our own neighbourhood rather than distant and changeable new friends. In this regard, the appointment of Pankaj Saran as the Deputy National Security Advisor after his last posting as India’s ambassador to Russia acquires added significance. Of course, Indo-US and Indo-Russian ties, thus, need not be toggled together but must be understood and seen in terms of India’s own self-interests and priorities.
What is special, even unique about these conferences, is the manner in which culture and soft power are included in the larger strategic and diplomatic entente. Nicholas Roerich considered Russia an Eastern rather than a Western civilisation. He was looking for a way to revive and reestablish the old Russian but authentic religious society. In vast and onerous travels and adventures, he tried to find the secret origins of all Eurasian religious traditions in the mythical land of Shambhala. Whether or not he found it in the central Asian or Tibetan highlands remains moot. But he and his wife finally settled in Naggar, bang in between Kullu and Manali in Himachal Pradesh. There, he produced an extraordinary series of paintings, writings, and ideas, which we can still learn and draw inspiration from. Can the tripartite friendship among Trump, Putin, and Modi make Roerich’s dream come true?
(This article was first published on The DNA. Read the original article.)
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)