THE BLOG

India and Iran: Time to Thaw the Bilateral Relations

04/03/2014 11:27 GMT | Updated 03/05/2014 10:59 BST

NEW DELHI -- As India closes in on another general election, great stress is on international affairs and bilateral relationships which seem a bit stretched at this point of time. With the change in guard being seen rather imminent in New Delhi, it would be interesting to observe the government make some important decisions regarding the country's future with other nations.

For instance, the visit of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif last week (February 27, 28) has raised the level of curiosity of the world, especially that of Pakistan, Iraq, Isarel with special emphasis on United States of America. While Tehran was gung-ho about reviving ties with India, latter seems to have treaded cautiously, before spelling out trade possibilities. India's decision to cut oil imports has got Iran worried now.

The visit was aimed at forging new relations and 'opening a new chapter' in Indo-Iranian relationships including trade and economic ties. For political analysts, the visit has surely come packed with lots of metaphors which could be analyzed for months.

While other things can be considered in political terms, what this visit means to an average Indian is of high interest. Going further, if both countries can ink the long-pending deal of natural gas pipeline with from Iran to India, hopefully with Pakistan and Afghanistan agreeing to allow the line to pass through their territories, India would have addressed a major concern as far as the energy needs are concerned. India, for now, is the fourth largest consumer in the world, of crude oil. Very soon, with population bursting the country at its seams, India will move one notch up in its energy needs making it the third consumer of crude oil and energy resources. IT superpower has a long way to go with Tehran, provided the relations between India and Iran turn for better in terms of trade and diplomacy.

The relationship between India and Iran is a rather unusual one. What can best describe the relationship between two countries is that both nations are often on 'blow hot blow cold' terms, mostly in the context of their respective relationship with the rest of the countries, than with themselves. As in, if India warms up to the US around the time when Iran isn't really sharing the party invitation, chances are that India will surely receive its share of criticism from this nation which happens to be its neighbor's neighbor. A common neighbor of Pakistan and Afghanistan, Iran is a crucial nation for India which has been trying to woo this nation half its very own size, after things went awry following India's vote against Iran in Non-Proliferation Treaty at the International Atomic Energy Agency in 2009.

Iran fell short of criticizing India in as many words. Its language of diplomacy was rather cryptic and straight, with not much left to 'read between the lines'. Iran told India: "Your Qibla is Washington". Now, for those who don't know, Qibla is the direction that a devout Muslim faces or turns to, when he is offering his religious prayers.

Iran minced no words in saying it was 'hypocritical' on part of India for having voted against Iran for its nuclear weapons program. India said it would not 'countenance' another nuclear power in the region. Surely, some diplomacy lessons had gone amiss here. US for its role, had spelt out in neutral terms that Iran's nuclear program was not in line with Hyde Act.

The perspective the world gained on this was that Indian vote against Iran had come after following the stance the United States had taken.

Iran, to some extent, was cautious in its reaction towards India. Though India's stand was consistent with its position that Iran had not fulfilled all obligations relating to NPT with Iran having admitted that it had not reported certain aspects of its nuclear program to International Atomic Energy Agency, India faced a lot of heat from Iran over the matter.

Trade relations were hit. Iran engaged in better trade relations with the United States, and kept its close neighbor India out of it.

The volatile relationship between two countries dates back to centuries and the exchange between two countries is more than trade relations. Anthropologists would claim the biggest trade between Iran and India has been that of knowledge, art and culture even before Aryans settled in northern parts of India! The decisive phase for Iran is 1979 revolution with religious leader Ayatollah Khomeini playing a major role in creating the political unrest, and spreading that unrest far and wide. Iran was vocal against Pakistan drafting anti-India resolutions at International organizations well through 80s. The two countries have had an excellent relationship going for them on all fronts, including that of defense cooperation between the two.

As for trade, Iran is India's biggest supplier of crude and other kinds of oil with India investing heavily in Iran on developing Iranian gas field on Persian gulf.

What needs a closer look is the religious matters. Iran (with a major poulation of Shia muslims) was accused of spreading Shia radicalism in India, which houses about 15% of Shia Muslims in India's overall population. Iran refuted this claim, saying if there was Shiite radicalism, there was also Hindu extremism within India, which had cropped up as a result of its own inadequacies to manage the growing population and threats to various communities.

Time has changed for both countries, with both on the brink of some positive outlook towards the future. They were together in history, and now time has come for them to create history by coming together again.