The violence in Delhi has caused ripples beyond Indian shores. Iran became the latest country to join the chorus of criticism. Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif's tweet condemning the violence has brought to the surface a strain in the relationship.
The tweet significantly came soon after the visit of President Donald Trump, a public display of over the top relationship between India and the US. That Trump's shadow has loomed large over the Indo-Iran relationship is stating the obvious. India has cut down oil imports from Iran to zero for almost a year. Indian imports from America, especially from the oil status of Texas, has grown exponentially 500 times. Trump's visit was also a public nod for India's good behaviour.
In a strongly-worded tweet on Monday, Zarif said: "Iran condemns the wave of organised violence against Indian Muslims. For centuries, Iran has been a friend of India. We urge Indian authorities to ensure the wellbeing of ALL Indians & not let senseless thuggery prevail. Path forward lies in peaceful dialogue and rule of law.”
In turn, India summoned the Iranian ambassador for the "unwarranted" remarks. “It was conveyed that his selective and tendentious characterisation of recent events in Delhi is not acceptable. We do not expect such comments from a country like Iran," said Ministry of External Affairs Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar.
This is not the first time Iran has taken a critical stand against India. There was condemnation of the Gujarat riots as well as the Babri Masjid demolition. India, too, has voted against Iran in atomic watchdog IAEA resolution in 2009.
India's relationship with Iran has become more delicate after the former chose closer ties with America. South Block has had to do a balancing act between the two.
The recent killing of General Solemani by America was one of the instances where India had to walk a fine line to keep both sides happy. While India condemned the killing, it didn't refer to Solemani by name nor did the MEA statement refer to his death as an assassination.
The relationship between India and Iran is grounded on deep civilizational ties. A testimony to how India values the relationship was Minister of External Affairs S. Jaishankar's visit to the US for the 2+2 talks. While he built stronger relations with America, he also flew to Tehran to attend a meeting with Zarif for closer cooperation. Iran, too, has demonstrated that India is special. Soon after the killing of Solemani, Zarif came to India to attend the Raisina Dialogues. A bilateral meeting with Jaishankar and Zarif followed.
India and Iran have people-to-people bonds that can't be ignored, even as some Indian students and pilgrims are stranded in coronavirus-hit areas of Iran. But beyond the soft ties, Indo-Iran relationship has to be viewed through the prism of strategy.
The Chabahar, described as a golden gate, has been a port in making for decades. This year India has committed twice the amount in the budget for the development of the port. A hundred million dollars have been allotted to be spent. This is a signal of how strongly India is committed to the project. Last year, 44 millions dollars were allotted only to be surrendered, as the fund went unused.
India certainly hopes to make progress. Once functional, the port will have the potential to influence the economy of central Asia. More importantly, the port is essential for Afghanistan. America recognizes the game changer that Chabahar can be. So, while there was pressure for India to cut down oil imports from Iran to zero, Indian investment in the port are exempt from American sanctions. (Trump, too, want India to have good times with Iran).
This becomes even more essential with the US pulling out of Afghanistan. It is the only transport link that bypasses Pakistan. Chabahar becomes even more vital. India is mindful of the importance and the opportunity.