India, a democratic country, is joining a group of Asian nations led by Russia and China – the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), which is often dubbed as ‘anti-western’ group. What is the reason behind this?

A vibrantly democratic country, India is joining the SCO which is cooperation of countries like Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. The club of all these nations is often called in the West as a “dictator’s club” with a total of eight members, out of which – five are rated as “unfree”, two are “partially free” and the last one is India. So what exactly a democratic country doing in company with absolutely not democratic countries? The answer is that lately, India has been juggling between building up closer ties with the United States and Japan, while it is also maintaining its long-term security relations with Russia. By getting closer to the US, India doesn’t want to look like it is cutting off from Russia – which has been its long-time supporter.

The SCO was found back in 2001 by Russia and China to keep Central Asian region, especially the former Soviet Union republics from ‘falling’ under American influence. This was basically a spontaneous reflex from Russia after the US quickly and easily took over Afghanistan. While Russia itself was a young country and their leader (read Putin) himself was young, energetic and determined; and on the other hand, China was all alone and looking for as many friends as it could get. That was 15 years ago, and today, China is the strongest in the SCO group, which has tensed strings on Russia – at least up to certain extent.

Which means, Russia was looking for some way to balance China with some neutral force – enter India. India is a rapidly developing, English speaking democratic country, and an old friend of Russia – with a part-Russian-blooded army, and strong or at least something against the Chinese. That counts Russian insistence towards India, joining the SCO. And India too had good reasons to join the group – while it’s elite goal remains to tie up with the West, its security requirements due to resistance with two neighbours: Pakistan and China, remains a prime need. To make it worse, China and Pakistan are strong friends and indirectly back each other even in minor skirmishes like the Doklam standoff.

Russia took the chance of India’s nervousness towards the Chinese and opted to counter-balance China with India in the SCO. India gets a powerful friend; Russia gets some relief from the overpowering Chinese weight. But did China just sit and watched the show? Nope, never. They insisted on adding its regional ally – Pakistan, to counterbalance India and keep its influence intact. And it was a win-win for Pakistan, anyway. Hence, everyone is happy, balance is achieved. That is why Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj has already left for Sochi, Russia to attend this year’s Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit.