Even as the country is preparing for the Republic Day celebrations, the National event has become that much more significant this year in the context of far-right, anti-China, Brazilian President, Jair Bolsonaro’s visit to India.
It is a known fact that world politics is becoming more and more polarised as countries across the globe are trying to cement close ties with similarly placed countries. A manifestation of this phenomenon will be on display when Jair Bolsonaro will attend the Republic Day parade in the capacity of the Chief Guest to the January 26 ceremony. Looking at Latin America, it is only Brazil with which India shares close relations.
This is Bolsonaro’s first visit to India after he got elected as the Brazilian President in 2018 and assumed office on January 1, 2019. Though India shares good diplomatic ties with other Latin American countries such as Argentina, Mexico and Venezuela, New Delhi’s relations with Brazil are far more evolved among all these countries.
After coming into power, PM Modi has visited Latin America three times, including two visits to the BRICS summit and another visit to Argentina during the 13th G20 summit.
India’s relations with other countries in the region have not evolved due to various factors. While relations with Venezuela have been affected by US sanctions on the country, New Delhi’s relations with Mexico have been limited to the energy sector. Similarly, ties with Argentina haven’t deepened because of the country’s tilt towards Beijing.
With Brazil, on the other hand, India traditionally shares close ties. In fact, the two countries established diplomatic ties in 1948 itself, shortly after India’s Independence. Both the countries are considered emerging superpowers, and while India is the fifth-largest economy of the world, Brazil happens to be the ninth-largest economy of the world.
Both the countries together form part of two major International associations- BRICS and IBSA (India, Brazil and South Africa). As such the two countries are major power blocs in their respective regions, which makes strengthening ties a tempting option for both New Delhi and Brasilia.
India and Brazil share close bilateral economic relations. Both countries have invested deeply in each other’s jurisdiction. Brazil’s investments have been spread across the IT, Energy, footwear, etc. whereas Indian investments in Brazil are spread across IT, farm, Engineering/ Auto sectors. TCS, Mahindra, Larsen & Toubro Ltd., Shree Renuka Sugars, etc. are the major Indian players who have a presence in the Latin American country. The Indian companies have invested around the US $ 5 billion in the Latin American country.
As illustrated above, India shares very close ties with Brazil and doesn’t share relations of this intensity with any other country in the region. And New Delhi doesn’t even need to look beyond Brazil when it comes to presence in Latin America. Brazil is the largest country both in terms of size and economy in the region. Therefore, New Delhi needs to only further deepen its relations with Brasilia.
Even on Bolsonaro’s present Republic Day visit to India, the two countries will take the opportunity to deepen ties. Brazil and India are going to conclude 15 agreements across several sectors including energy, farm and defence sectors. The increased stress on co-operation is likely to lay down a strong foundation for future bilateral relations.
Not only economic co-operation, but the ambitions of the two countries to secure a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) are also a factor that pushes the two countries closer.
Both the countries support each other’s claim to a permanent seat at the powerful global body and also agree in their demands for greater democratisation of the UNSC, giving it a representative character.
The Modi government seems to have realised the importance of its relations with Brazil. What it also realises is the fact that the present dispensation offers a great opportunity to lay down the groundwork for closer ties and greater co-operation.
As stated earlier, Bolsonaro’s far-right, anti-China image goes in India’s favour. Beijing has been trying to extend its influence in the Latin American region especially in Brazil, but Bolsonaro’s victory had come as a huge setback to the Dragon’s ambitions.
Bolsonaro’s anti-China stand is no secret and was at display even during his Presidential campaign in 2018 when he portrayed China as a predator looking to dominate key sectors of the Brazilian economy. Hitting out at China, he had said, “The Chinese are not buying in Brazil. They are buying Brazil.”
After coming into power, Bolsonaro has adopted a more conciliatory tone since coming to power. China, meanwhile, remains deeply interested in Latin America and Brazil is still the largest trading partner of China. However, India would still be looking to leverage Bolsonaro’s perceived anti-China stance.
India cannot afford to ignore Latin America, especially in the context of US-China trade tensions. Amid the ongoing trade war with the US, China has been looking to boost trade relations with the Latin American countries. In July last year, the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi had visited Brazil and other Latin American countries. In the backdrop of the US-China trade war, Latin America has thus come to occupy renewed significance.
Brazil is the biggest power Bloc in the region, and if India wants to counter China’s attempts to expand its investments in the region, closer ties and co-operation with Brazil is a must. Bolsonaro might have adopted a conciliatory tone, but New Delhi won’t find a better and more ideologically aligned Brazilian President to deal with.
Bolsonaro is extremely popular in Brazil and despite the Amazon fires and the disapproval of indigenous people for him, he continues to be popular as he is goth oriented and is determined to get the Brazilian economy back on track.
PM Modi has thus made a very good move by inviting Jair Bolsonaro as the Republic Day Chief Guest. While the most immediate consequence would be to bolster Indo-Brazilian ties, it also clearly tantamounts to New Delhi exploring Latin America, a region that India has never ventured into considerably.