India’s Role in the New Great Game Shedding Inhibitions

New Great Game


Author: Hriday Verma

Published: May 22, 2024

Since the Russia-Ukraine war, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar has demonstrated robust independence in both word and action. The concept of the “Great Game” has historical roots, originating in the mid-1800s during the intense rivalry between the Russian Empire and the combined might of the British, French, and Ottoman Empires over control of Central Asia. Let’s delve into the key aspects of this new Great Game and India’s role in it.

The Original Great Game

The original Great Game unfolded as follows:

  • British Concerns: The British feared a potential attack by the Imperial Russian Army through Afghanistan, threatening their Indian colony.
  • Ottoman Interests: The Ottomans, although in decline, aimed to prevent Russian incursions into their Balkan possessions.
  • Trade Routes and Buffer Zones: Britain established a new trade route from India to Bukhara, using Turkey, Persia, and Afghanistan as a buffer against Russian control of Persian Gulf ports. Meanwhile, Russia sought a neutral zone in Afghanistan to secure crucial trade routes.
  • Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907: The Great Game officially ended with this convention, which divided Persia (Iran) into zones controlled by Russia and Britain, with Afghanistan declared an official British protectorate.

The New Great Game

Fast-forward to the present, and we find a new Great Game unfolding with different actors, motives, and potential outcomes:

  • Russia’s Weakened Position: Russia, weakened since the Soviet era, faces NATO’s expansion into its former satellite states. Ukraine remains a non-NATO buffer state, but if it joins NATO, Russia will be completely encircled by the US-led West.
  • China’s Emergence: China has emerged as the principal threat to Western hegemony. The contest between the US and China mirrors the historical rivalry between the British and Russian Empires in the mid-1800s.
  • India’s Role: Unlike the past, India is no longer a British colony robbed of wealth and morale. It is a rising power with strategic interests. To play the new Great Game effectively, India must shed decades of foreign policy inhibitions and actively engage in shaping the geopolitical landscape.

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Indias Imperatives

1. Strategic Autonomy

India must assert its strategic autonomy by making decisions based on its national interests rather than aligning rigidly with any major power bloc. This approach allows India to navigate the complex global landscape while safeguarding its sovereignty.

2. Balancing Act

India should maintain a delicate balance between its relations with Russia and the US. While Russia remains an important partner, especially in defense and energy, India’s growing ties with the US provide access to technology, markets, and security cooperation.

3. Economic Diplomacy

India must leverage its economic strength to enhance its influence. Engaging in economic diplomacy, promoting trade, and investing in infrastructure projects can help India secure its interests in Central Asia and beyond.

4. Regional Cooperation

India should actively participate in regional forums and organizations. Initiatives like the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) can strengthen connectivity and trade links with Central Asia, bypassing Pakistan.

5. Energy Security

Diversifying energy sources and securing access to critical resources are essential. India must explore partnerships for energy security, including cooperation with Iran and Central Asian countries.

As the new Great Game unfolds, India’s proactive foreign policy choices will shape its role in this geopolitical arena. Shedding inhibitions and embracing strategic pragmatism will allow India to play a decisive role in the evolving global order

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