Cong officially quiet, leaders debate if calling out Russia an option

While a section of the party believes the government will have to do a fine balancing act, given India’s historical ties with Russia going back to the Nehruvian era, some leaders argue Moscow’s action should be condemned in no uncertain terms.

Some Congress leaders are of the view that India is caught in a bind and will have to do a delicate tightrope walk, keeping principles on one side and pragmatism and its interests on the other.

Anand Sharma, former Minister of State for External Affairs and head of the party’s foreign affairs department, largely echoed the stance taken by the government.

His party colleague Manish Tewari, however, argued that the government should take a clear position and tell Russia that it is in the wrong. “When friends are in the wrong, it is the responsibility of friends to point that out,” he said.

Former diplomat and Lok Sabha MP Shashi Tharoor has argued that India should condemn Russia’s action, as it violates international law and the UN charter.

“We can only express our grave concern and appeal for immediate cessation of hostilities. The international community should do everything possible by activating diplomatic channels for restoration of peace to save civilian lives and aggravated human sufferings,” Sharma told The Indian Express. “Both Russia and Ukraine should go back to the negotiating table. The path of negotiated resolution of all issues which have led to this situation, including honouring of past agreements, should be addressed.”

Refusing to be drawn into the stand taken by the government, Sharma said, “What more can we do. There were agreements between Russia and NATO after the collapse of the Soviet Union. There is the Russia-NATO pact, the Minsk agreement…there are four agreements. There is violation by them also…by NATO and the US.”

Tewari said Russia indeed is a “time-honoured friend” but argued that “there comes a time when you need to tell friends that they are wrong. The invasion of Ukraine goes against every principle of international relation. It is a negation of the Minsk agreement, the Normandy process…the attempt to change the status quo by force, or to physically occupy another independent democratic country, is completely wrong and India needs to take a clear position on it.”

“God forbid, if we were in the same position and if we were looking for solidarity from the world, the legitimate question that is going to be asked is why didn’t you stand up and be counted when another sovereign democratic nation was being subjected to the vicissitudes of an invasion,” Tewari, also a distinguished senior fellow at the South Asia Center of the Atlantic Council, said.

India has refrained from calling the Russian action invasion.

Tewari said the government is hedging its bets. “All these years, having put all their eggs in the American basket, by signing those foundational agreements which the UPA government did not sign because it wanted that strategic autonomy to be able to nimbly negotiate or manoeuvre through difficult situations…I do not know where this eventually is going to leave us…” he said.

“The fact is that after having signed all those foundational agreements which are defence agreements with the US, knowing fully well how the US has treaty arrangements all over the world…under those circumstances will this hedging really work to India’s benefit…the jury remains out on that,” Tewari added.

Tharoor said India has consistently upheld principles such as inviolability of sovereign borders and inadmissibility of change through force and violence and raised its voice against countries invading others. He said Russia is a friend and Moscow’s security concerns on the immediate borders is understandable, but New Delhi cannot remain silent on the crucial principles that it had followed all this while.

Although the Congress has not articulated its position, sources said the party’s stance has always been that “aggression and invasion are never the answer to solve disputes of this nature” and that “issues need to be resolved through dialogue.”

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