Jan 24, 2020-Friday
India’s interest lies in expanding relations with other regional powers and, therefore, it is appropriate for the Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, to be Republic Day chief guest. Brazil has been a close multilateral partner in Indian foreign policy after the Cold War. It has been India’s closest partner in BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), and cooperated in dealing with the climate crisis, Security Council reform and South-South cooperation. Many of these have been aspirational, and stronger on joint statements than tangible results. One reason for this is the lack of economic and strategic links between tier-two powers. Mr Bolsonaro’s visit seeks to address this gap.
In a world marked by increased geopolitical rivalry and reduced multilateral cohesion, many two-tier nations are strengthening relations. The most striking example in the Indian context has been the deep relationship that has emerged with Japan. This is also why New Delhi has countries like France, Indonesia and Australia on its strategic list in the coming years. Brazil, overwhelmingly dominant in South America, is an obvious country for India to seek a closer engagement with. While geography limits security cooperation, unusually for a Latin American leader, the Brazilian president has expressed concerns about China’s rise. India could also take some development lessons from Brazil. This is an emerging economy that has implemented universal health care, successfully adopted genetically modified crops and navigated the process of urbanisation.
Mr Bolsonaro has made deeply objectionable statements about women and climate. His government is responsible for policy changes that have caused extensive destruction of the Amazon forests. This cannot be endorsed, but it also cannot be the basis for determining inter-State relations. A mature foreign policy is driven by interests. Brazil holds elections. Its people are best placed to judge the quality of their president. India will seek to persuade the Brazilian leader, despite his climate scepticism, to ratify the International Solar Alliance. New Delhi’s primary interest is that the Brazilian leader takes business seriously and wants to use economics to add muscle to the bilateral relationship. Brazil needs to be more to Indians than just football.