India and Brazil are the two whales in the global ocean. Besides China, only India and Brazil are the likeliest candidates to rise as great powers who have the potential to become superpowers. But till not long ago, if India was known for the Hindu rate of growth and its chronic poverty, Brazil was synonymous with hyper-inflation and debt bomb. If, in spite of democracy, India to the West remained a land of snake charmers and mystic sadhus, Brazil was dismissed by France’s Charles de Gaulle as “not a serious country”. He said “Brazil is the country of tomorrow and always be.” Today, both India and Brazil have moved from being balancing powers to leading global players. Over the past one decade or so their foreign policy stances have been adapted to variable geometry of international relations through active engagements with diverse bilateral and multilateral forums.
Brazilian President Jair Messias Bolsonaro’s 4-day visit to India as Chief Guest on India’s 71st Republic Day celebrations is a recognition of the growing India-Brazil partnership which only now India’s strategic community has started focusing their glare on. India and Brazil are not only stable democracies, they are now trillion dollar economies. Like India, Brazil too has made rapid strides in international affairs and global diplomacy. For long Brazil followed an inward foreign policy. But now it skillfully utilizes multilateral institutions to stake its claim as a global actor. President Bolsonaro is the third Brazilian president to be invited as Chief Guest on Republic Day. President Fernando Henrique Cardoso and President Luiz Inacio da Silva ‘Lula’ had that honour in 1996 and 2004 respectively.
Prime Minister Modi has attended two BRICS Summits-in Fortaleza in 2014 and Brasilia in 2019. The decision to invite foreign heads of state and government as chief guests on Republic Day is a strategic choice.
Prime Minister Modi and President Bolsonaro held wide ranging talks on issues of international and bilateral importance. President Ram Nath Kovind hosted a banquet in honour of the Brazilian President.
Both the countries have signed over a dozen agreements including a bilateral investment cooperation and facilitation agreement, as also a pact on combating international terrorism. President Bolsonaro also addressed the India-Brazil business forum and his 7 ministers held detailed discussions with their Indian counterparts. The multifaceted talks between the two sides have the objective of elevating the bilateral ties to another level.
When Mr. Bolsonaro was elected president, many analysts expressed the view that Brazil would turn inward giving priorities to its ties with “core states of Europe and North America”. Some even felt that Brazil will no longer be interested in BRICS given his pronouncements during the election campaigns. But such misgivings were unfounded. Only a few months ago, President Bolsonaro successfully hosted the BRICS Summit. He has also undertaken a successful visit to China. As strategic partners, India and Brazil have prioritized their foreign policies to take advantage of global power shifts. The current global order is described variously as “non-polar world”, “multi-regional world order” and multi-multi-polarity”. They have taken advantage of the global governance institutions to build new coalitions in national interest.
Trade and investment ties have received a big boost. Trade between the two countries has increased to $8.2 billion with India exporting goods worth $3.8 billion. What is equally encouraging is the growing Indian investments in Brazil, particularly in IT, pharmaceuticals, energy, agri-business, mining and engineering sectors. Both sides are extremely happy about the strategic partnership which now has an Action Plan to serve as an umbrella agreement which visualises increased cooperation in the areas of defence, technology sharing and a logistic agreement.
Indo-Brazilian ties have grown from strength to strength as a result of frequent interactions at the highest political levels in forums line BRICS, G20 and IBSA. In fashioning the multi-polar, post-Western world order, the two countries will have to work hard for the bilateral relations to become a template for other countries.
Script: Dr. Ash Narain Roy, Director, Institute Of Social Sciences, Delhi