"Why are Indians pro-Russia?", asked the Texan bus driver. He gave his front mirror a quick glance, perhaps to catch a glimpse of what my immediate reaction might be.
India is a secular nation. Or so we were. We face high levels of corruption today; perhaps worse than anytime in our modern history. Our economy is perineally (edit : I meant perennially, as pointed out by Odysseus) hindered by business interests controlling it's volatile politics. Sprinkle in a bunch of politically convenient manipulations in the form of religion, casteism and regionalism or nationalism. I guess all that might ring a bell.
With a close to 80% Hindu majority, religion is nearly as big of a factor in India as Christianity in the US with its 63% share. Left wing and right wing politics are divided along similar lines. A conventional right-wing Indian mindset goes "Hindu religion ancient and supreme, other religions made up, Muslim religion red alert."
That last part has an outsized role in how India perceives the world. While the left wing Indians stay distant from Israel-Gaza type of conflicts for the want of any sort of knowledge of its history, the right wing are rather hard wired to pick whichever side isn't Muslim. That Israel seemingly stands bold and strong while surrounded by unfriendly Islamic countries makes it a hero to them.
Now when I say "India" in this article, I am more specifically talking about the politically dominant, and by far the most populated section of India that lies towards its north and center. Given that each state in India is almost as unique as each country in Europe, with each having its own language and culture, this is a rather lazy generalization. (There are roughly 30 such states in India.) But let's go with it to keep things simple.
India often finds itself caught in the crossroads when it comes to international affairs. It has a population size very similar to China's, but its economy is nowhere as near: China's GDP is 6 times that of India's. The US seems to wish that India could be a better counterweight to China in the theatre of Asia (yes, India is Asian, and Indians are Asians too). Unfortunately, that isn't going to be the case anytime soon. The US relationship with India, though, is historically more complicated than what many people understand.
In 1971, East Pakistan (now known as Bangladesh) took India's help and fought it's war of Independence against West Pakistan. The US sided with the west, which is today simply known as Pakistan, or the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. It is a funny thing that the US has often sided with religious theocracies against secular democracies. In this case, it was partly so because Pakistan (west) was holding out against "communist influence" from its north and northwest. So guess who came to India's rescue then? The Soviet Union.
To cut the story short: India and East Pakistan won. Thus was Bangladesh created. Fortunately, the Bangladesh has become a secular democracy since, and has held out successfully against a very bitter and vengeful internal pro-Pakistan (west) Islamist fanaticism that still remains and threatens to destroy it. Pakistan meanwhile, continues to be an Islamic republic, notwithstanding many coups and revolutions, and it occasionally fights with India over territory. The US-Pakistan defense relations continue to be a thorn by India's side.
Russia, the successor of the Soviets, thus started off with very positive relations with India, building upon those existing trade and defense partnerships. On the other hand, the US, which had lucked into becoming an insanely powerful economic powerhouse in the aftermath of the world wars, (edit: I stand corrected- US has been the largest economy since 1890s) now also started attracting increasing immigration from India. This slowly lead to the US becoming viewed just as favorably as Russia.
Now the next piece of the story: there's something that right-wingers across the world typically seem to share in common, apart from the hatred of minorities: an appreciation of strongmen and authoritarians. When it comes to Abrahamic religions, it is the appeal of God "speaking through" these people, or implementing his will through them. It may take the form of Putinism/Trumpism in the West, or Ayatollah-ism / Hezbollah-ism in the Middle East. And when it comes to Hinduism (a non-Abrahamic religion), this factor distinctly becomes an appreciation of "strong" conmen posing as heroes of tradition: fighting for the reign and revival of the "supreme ancient culture" of the world, and thus carrying the favor of the Gods. In the end, it takes the same form of strongman-craze as in the right-wing west. The current Prime Minister of India slid into this role roughly a decade ago.
Let's also consider the era of internet and globalization. Skyscrapers and homes alike have become increasingly similar across the world. The clothing styles have becoming similar. Food chains with similar themes, shopping marts, etc are becoming increasingly popular everywhere, and local traditional practices are very slowly eroding away. The Indian right wing thus has many excuses to claim that the greatest ancient culture that they descend from is under threat. But rather than doing anything about preservation, isn't it better to make a Strawman out of it all to burn during elections?
Thus their crusade against "Westernization". Their beatings and public humiliation of couples celebrating "Valentine's Day which goes against the culture". Their increasingly bold attacks against missionaries of the Western or middle eastern religions. Their attacks against women for simply wearing a pair of jeans pants (but oh it's perfectly ok for men to wear them). Sounds so culturally "superior", right?
So with the goodwill that Russia already started, further deepened with trade and defense partnerships, with its military touted as second best in the world (lol), and with Putin's image as a shrewd strongman leader fighting for his "great" country, is it any surprise that the Indian right wing would admire his crusade against that same "Westernization" of "his lands"? They secretly wish that he'd "teach the west (read as NATO) a lesson".
To put this further in perspective, this same Indian right wing also cheered for Trump, and attempted their feeble "Hindus for Trump" movement in the US. And when our right-wing Prime Minister visited the US, someone peculiar more than eagerly showed up to welcome him: Tulsi Gabbard.
This was quite before her presidency bid. So it was clear to anyone paying attention that her progressive-ness was a charade. Which is why I was exasperated to see "such stupid gullible" (as I thought) supporters of her being charmed into a sizeable votebank. Especially when there was at least one another proven candidate on the stage who had, all his life, stood up and actually fought for those same values that she was pretending to stand for.
Fast forward to this day, the left-right divisions in the US have carried into India. Some of the Indian right wing, typically loud and happy to scream over the social media, still carry their love for Trump. Left wingers more universally respect Biden. But the overwhelming majority don't care and don't know anything about US politics. Most wouldn't know the name of the sitting US president at any time. Thus, the loudest right wing voices become India's only visible representatives on social media.
Similarly, it's also sadly true that we only care about Ukraine-Russia war nearly as much as we care about a Real Madrid - Barcelona show down. Only enough for a small fraction of people to chill and watch it on TV, and maybe cheer for a team. Even worse, given our Soviet era history, and given that the few shrill voices that stand out in this regard mostly come from the right wing, the bias tends to be Pro-Putin. Our politicians would rather quietly just buy cheap Russian oil; temporarily lower domestic prices matter in elections.