India and Russia marked 70 years of diplomatic relations with a successful summit, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian president Vladimir Putin reaffirmed their "trust-based" special relationship and signed the St Petersburg Declaration. The St Petersburg Declaration lays out the road map for further deepening relations, with a greater focus on strengthening economic and energy ties.
Through the past seven decades, the bilateral relationship has grown into a special and privileged partnership. The two leaders had agreed, at their last meeting in Goa in October 2016, that 70 years of their diplomatic ties would be celebrated with a series of events in 2017.
Professor Arun Kumar Mohanty of Jawaharlal Nehru University recalls the events that led to India and Russia establishing diplomatic relations. "The British government was opposed to any closer links between India and the Soviet Union. Though Russia had opened a consulate in Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1900, as a result of an agreement that allowed Britain to open a consulate in Tbilisi, the British leadership was not ready for formal ties with India," Mohanty said.
Britain and Russia had been the protagonists in the 'Great Game' of the 19th century, when both powers sought to thwart the other's ingress into Afghanistan and Central Asia.
In 1946, after coming out of jail, Jawaharlal Nehru had made a public statement that India would consider establishing diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union as it would be important for a neutral foreign policy. Though the British authorities were opposed to it, Nehru and the Congress Party were not willing to give up their plans. Nehru sought a way to contact the Russian leadership.
"Secret contact was established with Russian leaders in Paris," Mohanty said. Paris was the venue for the Paris Peace Conference, where the Allied powers were negotiating with the smaller Axis countries such as Italy and Bulgaria on peace treaties.
A Russian delegation was present in Paris for the conference. Nehru sent VK Krishna Menon to Paris with a letter. "Menon handed over the letter to the then Russian foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov, who was quite enthusiastic about the proposal to establish diplomatic relations."
There had been some preliminary contact between the two sides in San Francisco, during the historic conference for the founding of the United Nations. India and the Soviet Union were represented by high-powered delegations. The Paris trip was planned in secret but British intelligence got to know that Menon had met Molotov.
Nehru had planned to go to Moscow in February 1947 but the British authorities scuttled the move. The question arose of how to complete the formalities of establishing diplomatic relations. About this time, Nehru learnt that Canada and the Soviet Union had established formal diplomatic relations through the exchange of protocols. Discussions were initiated with the Russian leadership through London and Nanjing (where the Chinese Nationalists government was located); the talks were coordinated by Menon in London.
Eventually, a two sentence protocol for establishing diplomatic relations was delivered by India’s Ambassador to China, KPS Menon, to the Soviet embassy in Nanjing. News of the exchange of protocols was published in Pravda on 13 April, 1947.
The British government was taken by surprise; it had not expected the process to move so fast. After establishing diplomatic ties, India’s interim government moved ahead, and one week before Independence, India opened its first diplomatic mission with the arrival of Vijaylakshmi Pandit as India's envoy in Moscow on 9 August, 1947. The Soviet leaders responded by welcoming the new envoy and arranging a good-sized building to house the Indian chancery in war-ravaged Moscow.
Relations between New Delhi and Moscow began on a cordial note but there were also some differences of opinion. Moscow appreciated the Indian stance on the Korean crisis and relations improved. Over the years, the bilateral ties strengthened till the two sides signed the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation in 1971 and by 2017, revitalised their ties to a special and privileged strategic partnership.
Published Date: Jun 05, 2017 17:02 PM | Updated Date: Jun 05, 2017 17:02 PM