In New Delhi earlier this month, members of Hindu Sena, an Indian right-wing organisation, organized a demonstration in support of Russia and its invasion of Ukraine.
Marching in the heart of the capital for almost an hour, the demonstrators held signs reading “Russia, you fight, we are with you” and “Long live India-Russia ties.” Other signs explicitly supported the invasion and an “undivided Russia.”
Although the Hindu Sena is a relatively small political group, it does have a presence in 16 Indian states and claims over 1 million supporters on social media platforms.
“Russia has always been India’s true friend. India should have put boots on the ground also. Ukraine, which has always supported Pakistan, had also voted against our nuclear programme,” Hindu Sena president Vishnu Gupta told DW.
Why are some Indians supporting Russia?
While the demonstration in Delhi was a one-off event, a sizable swathe of Indians, especially on social media, express support for Russia and President Vladimir Putin.
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College student Richa Kapoor said that although he feels bad for innocent Ukrainians, he thinks the West is in no position to criticize Russia, when considering the Western-led invasion of Afghanistan.
“We should not be swayed by the Western bloc’s hypocrisy,” she told DW.
Mahesh Kumar Agarwal, a lawyer, told DW that he thinks the countries that once belonged to the Soviet Union will eventually return to Russian control.
A similar geopolitical concept, known as “Akhand Bharat,” is supported by some on the far right in India, which envisions the entire Indian subcontinent, stretching from Afghanistan to Myanmar, as belonging to a single, “undivided” nation with India at its core.
Other supporters of Putin cite historical ties to Russia, including memories of the Soviet Union backing India during the 1971 war of liberation in Bangladesh.
“Historical ties with the former USSR, and the threat of China getting closer to Russia, are also reasons that shape India’s support,” Nalini Ranjan Mohanty, director of the Jagran Institute of Management and Mass Communication, told DW.
India’s leaders walk a tightrope
Since Russia invaded Ukraine three weeks ago, India has walked a diplomatic tightrope and abstained on every United Nations vote condemning Russia’s actions.
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These have include votes at the UN Security Council, the UN General Assembly, the UN Human Rights Council and at the International Atomic Energy Agency.
In addition to its historical and strategic ties with Russia, a core tenet of Indian foreign policy has long been the desire to maintain good, stable relations with all major powers, including Russia.
Russia is also the top supplier of major arms to India, although India’s imports of Russian arms have decreased in recent years, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri).
There are also similarities between Putin and Prime Minister Narender Modi’s populist political style.
“Both leaders bring in a macho-man image to their personalities, are nationalistic, authoritarian, and display a fierce leadership style,” media historian Rakesh Batabyal told DW.
Who is opposing Russia in India?
However, there is also a vocal lobby that is critical of India’s refusal to weigh in on the war in Ukraine and call on New Delhi to denounce Russia for invading a sovereign nation.
“Russia is a friend, and there could be some legitimate security concerns, but for India to go suddenly silent on it will be seen as a disappointment by Ukraine and its friends. It’s a pity that India has gone silent,” said Congress MP Shashi Tharoor in a recent interview with Indian media.
“It does not reflect well when a country like India who aspires for a UN Security Council seat goes completely silent on internationally recognized principles,” he added.
Another Congress leader Manish Tewari tweeted that he wished India stood with Ukrainians against this “unprecedented & unjustified aggression.”
“Friends need to be told when they are wrong,” he said.
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Edited by: Wesley Rahn