Revolutions always define themselves in future terms: the golden dawn, the new age or the glorious future are the usual metaphors for such upheavals. The Soviet Union, Vietnam and Cuba, among others, are good examples of such imaginings.
Thirty years ago, Iran defied this trend and defined its new dawn in religious terms: As Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini stepped from the tarmac of a jet that brought him home from Paris, he vowed to make Iran an Islamic republic.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
There are two broad aspects to Iran’s relations with the world. Its marked hostility to the US and a flexibility that its religious outlook permits in the conduct of its foreign policy.
Today, with a much weakened US, it is this flexibility that is the cause of concern in an arc that spans from Iraq to Pakistan.
In Lebanon and Iran, it has permitted Iranian proxies to oppose the US and Israel in religious terms, while in Afghanistan, and perhaps Pakistan, too, it allows Iran to oppose the Taliban, an organization that also defines itself in religious terms. The latter fact should have allowed India and Iran greater cooperation with each other. It has not. This is despite close relations between the two countries for the past 30 years. Both nations have been hostage to political circumstances beyond their control.
By the time India moved away from the Soviet sphere of influence, Iran had warmed up to Russia. India, meanwhile, is much more friendlier with the US and less so towards Russia. The one constant in this equation is the continuing Iranian hostility to the US. As a result, there is a slight chill in Indo-Iranian relations. India’s vote against Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency in 2005 and, to an extent, the failure of the gas pipeline project with Tehran can be explained by this turn of events.
Tehran’s closeness to Beijing is another, relatively unexplored, factor in the bilateral relations between India and Iran.
Can things change? They can, but the path is hard. Somewhere, New Delhi’s proximity to Washington is seen by Iran as compromising India’s independent foreign policy. India must take steps to remove this view of things. Here, it’s important to remind Tehran that its new-found friendship with Russia, after decades of hostility to the Soviet Union, too, can be viewed as an example of “flexibility”, something that India can also practise. Seen from a realist perspective, not much has changed: Only interests are being pursued. The sooner the two countries appreciate that, the better it will be for them.
India and Iran: friendship lost or pursuit of new friends? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org