India – Iran relations are more than a millennium old. Bilateral relations between the two countries are far reaching and multi-dimensional. Both have recognized they have a lot to offer to each other and have acted to expand cooperation in many key areas. The recent increasing bilateralism between Iran and India is based on the economic and geopolitical interests of both countries.
History of India-Iran Relations
India – Iran have shared relations for more than a thousand years. After the attack of Persian aggressor Nader Shah in 1739, there has been a 300 years of friendship, cordial relations and a great exchange of language, culture, art, architecture and trade between India and Iran.Persian or Farsi has been an integral part of pre-British Indian life, art, language and culture. Even Vedic references to Persian culture and language exist. Indo-Persian architecture in several monuments, specially the Taj Mahal, is a great testimony of our civilizational relations. Sufism in India has Persian roots. Guru Nanak had visited Persia and was influenced by Sufism.
During the modern times, three years after India gained independence from the British, in 1950, India and Iran established their diplomatic relations. It was a relationship which had experienced many ups and downs starting from the Shah era when Iran was part of the US-led Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) on the one hand and India established the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and was close to the former Soviet Union on the other.
Following the 1979 revolution, relations between Iran and India strengthened momentarily. However, Iran’s continued support for Pakistan and India’s close relations with Iraq during the Iran–Iraq War impeded further development of Indo–Iranian ties.In the 1990s, India and Iran supported the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan against the Taliban regime. They continue to collaborate in supporting the broad-based anti-Taliban government in Afghanistan. The two countries signed a defence cooperation agreement in December 2002. And that led to improvement in ties.
Iran is one of the largest suppliers of India’s requirement of crude oil to meet India’s growing energy requirements. Around one-fifth of all oil and petroleum sales from Iran are to India, pegged at $12 billion a year. India and Iran have inked an agreement by which India will import crude oil from Iran using a rupee-based payment mechanism, 50 per cent of those payments being used for exporting items to Tehran, especially basmati rice.
In May 2016, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid a high-profile visit to Tehran where India agreed to invest $500 million in the Chabahar port development and regional road and rail connectivity with Afghanistan and Central Asia. With a plan to further invest an additional $16 billion in the Chabahar, a free trade zone was also signed by both countries. Their bilateral trade is around 14 billion USD in which India imports around $12 billion worth of oil from Iran.
India is helping develop the Chabahar port, which will give it access to the oil and gas resources in Iran and the Central Asian states.Iran plans to use Chabahar for trans-shipment to Afghanistan and Central Asia. India, Iran and Afghanistan have signed an agreement to give Indian goods, heading for Central Asia and Afghanistan, preferential treatment and tariff reductions at Chabahar. The Chabahar port project is Iran’s chance to end its US-sponsored economic isolation and benefit from the resurgent Indian economy. Along with Bandar Abbas, Chabahar is the Iranian entre port on the North-South corridor. A strategic partnership between India, Iran and Russia is intended to establish a multi-modal transport link connecting Mumbai with St Petersburg, providing Europe and the former Soviet republics of Central Asia access to Asia and vice versa.
Iran’s cultural role in India revolves around the Shia clergy inside India the ruling establishment in India is well aware of and even silently endorses it.A growing number of Iranian students are enrolled at universities in India. Iran today expects India to stand strong and resist US pressures in its own long term interests. There can be several areas of investments for India, as in transport, IT, pharma, biotech, etc. People to people cooperation are possible immensely in cinema, culture, education, tourism, etc.
The future of India-Iran relations looks positive. India has been successfully able to withstand the US pressure and continues to trade with Iran despite US sanctions. Where this has enabled India to fulfil its key energy and trade requirements, Iran sees relations with India as significant since it has helped Iran offset US Sanctions.
Indo-Iran relations can only progress if they are delinked from Western interests in the region and are developed purely in the economic, socio-cultural and geo-strategic interests of Iran and India. Indian government has recently given a list of 120 items that Iran can import from India, sanctions notwithstanding. And India cannot ignore the crude oil and gas imports from Iran, more so in an election year. Further, the historical context and hence the possibilities of people-to-people relations are an icing on the cake.