India and the BRICS A Cautious and Limited Engagement

Published date01 January 2017
Date01 January 2017
Subject MatterArticles
India and the BRICS
A Cautious and Limited
Rajan Kumar1
This article seeks to explore the core interests of India at the BRICS (Brazil,
Russia, India, China and South Africa). It argues that India joined this organization
as a part of its broad strategy to engage with all the major powers. It foresaw
significant geopolitical and economic dividends from its association with other
emerging states in a multilateral forum. New Delhi actively participated in the
BRICS summits and has contributed significantly to its agenda setting and insti-
tutionalization. The article also shows how the BRICS has departed from the
Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and India’s traditional policy towards the Global
South. By entering into a privileged club, India seeks to upgrade its rank and sta-
tus. Finally, the article discusses the way preponderance of China in this organiza-
tion and its border conflicts with India have impacted the potential of the BRICS.
BRICS, global governance, India, NAM, global south, IMF, WB, UN, RIC
As India is acquiring greater economic and military capabilities, its sense of enti-
tlement is also increasing. It believes that given its history, the size of population,
economy and military strength, it should play a bigger role in global governance.
But the existing governance mechanisms provide a very limited space for emerg-
ing states like India. The West controls the decision-making in the international
institutions, such as the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), the International
Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB). It recognizes the inevitability of
India obtaining a bigger role in the key institutions of global governance. But the
International Studies
54(1–4) 162–179
2018 Jawaharlal Nehru University
SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/0020881718777348
1 Associate Professor, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, India.
Corresponding author:
Rajan Kumar, Associate Professor, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University,
Delhi, India.
Kumar 163
reform process is so cumbersome that it may take years before it acquires the
desired position and role. In this context, the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China
and South Africa) appeared to be a promising organization for India in achieving
its global aspirations.
The BRICS seemed to fit perfectly into India’s strategy of engaging with all
the powers. India believes that its national interests necessitate a strong relation-
ship with both Russia and the United States. From India’s perspective, the BRICS
is not necessarily an organization to counter the West; it is rather complementary
to the existing global institutions.
Like other members of the BRICS, India has its own specific objectives and
concerns. This article identifies those objectives by answering the following ques-
tions: What are the core interests that India wants to protect and promote through
the BRICS? Is BRICS an extension of India’s Third World politics or a gradual
departure from it? What are the principal concerns of India at the BRICS? How
does it balance its relationship with the United States and the BRICS? How have
the border tensions between India and China affected the dynamics of the BRICS?
The geopolitical and geoeconomic influence of the West is shrinking, but it still
wields disproportionate influence in the global governance. The contradictions in
the West-dominated global economic order began to unravel with the financial
crisis of 2007–2008. Unlike earlier financial crises, the epicentre of this crisis was
in the United States. It exposed the misgovernance and vulnerabilities of the
American economy. There was a widespread criticism of the way the United
States regulated its economy, dominated international institutions and disregarded
the interests of other states in orchestrating global governance (Stiglitz, 2010).
The financial crisis became the catalyst for the emerging countries to join hands
in refashioning the regimes of global governance. Semiformal dialogue forums—
Russia–India–China (RIC) and India–Brazil–South Africa (IBSA)—contributed
to the emergence of a formal institution called the BRIC in 2009 and the BRICS
two years later, with the joining of South Africa.
While the acronym BRICS is rightfully credited to Jim O’Neill, the idea of
RIC dates back to the late 1990s. This concept was quite popular in India among
the policymakers as well as academic communities of that period (Mahapatra,
1999). A few doctoral researches were also undertaken around the theme in Indian
universities.1 Russia’s Prime Minister, Yevgeny Primakov floated the idea of a
triangular alliance of Russia, India and China or RIC during his visit to India in 1998
(Cherian, 1999; Mohan, 2002). This resonated favourably with the left-liberal
policymakers and intellectuals. Foreign ministers of Russia, India and China—
Igor Ivanov, Yashwant Sinha and Tang Jiaxuan met in New York on the margins
of the UN General Assembly meeting in 2001. The ‘strategic triangle’ involving
India, China and Russia finally culminated in the BRICS with two additional
members—Brazil and South Africa (Mohan, 2017). The RIC and the IBSA
can, therefore, be taken as precursors to the BRICS (Cooper & Farooq, 2016;

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