Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Narendra Modi, Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will this time skip the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit in Kazakhstan for more reasons than one including the split Lok Sabha verdict. File photo

Why Modi is likely to skip SCO Summit in Kazakhstan

Modi’s move to stay away is seen as his attempt to avoid being party to anti-US statements and outcome documents that have become a regular feature of the forum

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to skip the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit in Kazakhstan next week for several reasons, including an election verdict that has politically weakened him.

Modi visited Italy for the G7 Outreach summit this month which was attended by US President Joe Biden and other leaders of key Western countries.

Modi also met Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky but he did not travel to Switzerland for the Ukraine peace meeting, which was seen in New Delhi as an attempt to gather world opinion against Russia.

Though it has not been announced yet, unofficially, Indian diplomats have confirmed that Modi will not attend the SCO summit. Instead, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar will represent India in Kazakhstan.

Avoiding anti-Americanism

Modi’s decision to stay away from the SCO summit is seen as his attempt to avoid being party to anti-US statements and outcome documents, which have become a regular feature of the gathering.

China, Russia, Iran, and Pakistan, along with central Asian countries Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and India, are the nine members of the SCO. Belarus is likely to be included as the 10th member.

Summit with Putin

Modi will visit Moscow on July 8 for his annual bilateral summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The ostensible reason for the Indian prime minister not attending the SCO summit is said to be his preoccupation with the ongoing session of Parliament where a number of important issues are likely to come up.

Unlike in his past two terms, Modi now heads a coalition government with a reduced majority. This has made the prime minister’s presence in the House much more essential than before.

But there are other reasons as well for Modi not travelling to Kazakhstan.

Avoiding Xi, Sharif

It's believed he wants to avoid meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping and Pakistan Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif. Before the Lok Sabha elections, Modi hinted in an interview with Newsweek that Sino-Indian relations should be normalized and the tension at the border be lowered.

He also spoke about improving ties with Pakistan and building more cordial relations.

Rethink on China, Pakistan

However, Modi’s thinking reportedly changed when he reassessed the situation after the Lok Sabha election did not give his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a majority in the House.

Modi indicated that a thaw in relations with either China or Pakistan was unlikely when he did not invite the leaders of the two neighbours to his swearing-in ceremony on June 9.

India feels that starting any engagement with China now will lead Beijing to think that the bilateral situation is normal and allow it to consolidate its stand without withdrawing to the April 2020 position at the border.

Cautious Modi

India has maintained that normal relations between the two sides can be restored once the situation on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) stabilizes with China pulling back its troops.

With Pakistan, a resumption of dialogue can only be held if both the civilian government and the Pakistan army give a firm assurance that Islamabad won’t indulge in any act of terrorism against India and will takes visible steps to dismantle its terrorist infrastructure.

Unlike his two earlier terms, Modi will not take the risk of any bold gestures towards either China or Pakistan unless the two address Indian concerns ahead of a political engagement at the highest level.

Stronger opposition

Largely, this rethink stems from domestic compulsions and the changed scenario in a splintered parliament.

Modi will now be more answerable to the opposition’s questions on why he is taking steps to engage these countries as neither China has withdrawn troops nor Pakistan taken steps to stop terror activities in Kashmir.

Moreover, at a time when India’s relations with the US is growing at a steady pace, Modi does not want to be part of a summit where American policies will be routinely criticized by China, Russia and others.

What is SCO?

The SCO is a Eurasian political, economic, international security and defense organization that was put in place by China and Russia in 2001. Later it became the Shanghai Five with the addition of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

It became a nine-member organization after India and Pakistan joined in 2017 and Iran in 2023. After the current summit, it may become a 10-member body with the inclusion of Belarus.

The SCO is considered to be the world’s largest regional organization in terms of geography and population as it covers nearly 80 per cent of Eurasia and 40 per cent of the global population.

Retaining ties with SCO

According to a 2021 estimate, its combined GDP of this bloc was over 20 per cent of the global GDP.

Apart from the full members of the SCO, many countries are observers, guests and dialogue partners in the organisation.

But though Modi will not be attending the SCO summit, India does not want to close its options by totally downgrading its participation in the forum.

Importance of SCO

The SCO is an important platform for exchanging views and cooperation on trade, investment and also security and anti-terrorism in the region and gives it an opportunity to know about new developments in Afghanistan.

Ahead of the SCO summit in Astana, Modi spoke to Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jorat Tokayev and expressed India’s steadfast support for the SCO and wished it all success.

India, US, Russia

India’s presence is seen by the members, particularly the Central Asian countries, as offering a third option from the domination of China and Russia.

New Delhi’s acceptance of both Russia and the US can be an advantage that few other members of the SCO enjoy.
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