Why India must keep a close watch on the Iran unrest | editorials | Hindustan Times
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Why India must keep a close watch on the Iran unrest

Those talking of an ‘Iranian Spring’ and backing the protestors, such as US President Donald Trump, are probably hoping the demonstrations will lead to the rise of more moderate forces or weaken the regime in Tehran so that it has less time to interfere in countries across West Asia. The reality is that the protests could lead to more unrest, especially if the clergy decides to use State forces to crack down

editorials Updated: Jan 05, 2018 19:25 IST
An Iranian woman raises her fist amid the smoke of tear gas at the University of Tehran during a protest driven by anger over economic problems, Tehran on December 30, 2017
An Iranian woman raises her fist amid the smoke of tear gas at the University of Tehran during a protest driven by anger over economic problems, Tehran on December 30, 2017(AFP)

There has been some heady talk of an “Iranian Spring” following the rare protests in several cities across Iran, but it would probably be closer to the truth to say the demonstrations have triggered uncertainty about stability in the country and the region. The protests, initially fuelled by the Iranian government’s failure to fight corruption as well as disappointment that the landmark 2015 nuclear deal did not lead to better economic conditions, began in a small way on December 28 at Mashhad, Iran’s second largest city, considered a bastion of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Events since then have shown that things could easily spiral out of control: 21 people have died as the protests spread to more than 50 cities and towns. More than 450 protestors were detained in Tehran alone, and hundreds of others across the country.

Many of the protestors were young people – 60% of Iran’s population of 81 million is under 30, more educated than past generations and avid users of social media – who have been grappling with unemployment and the impacts of sluggish economic growth. There were chants of “death to the dictator”, a reference to Khamenei, as the protests assumed a political tone over the weekend, and some have questioned why Tehran was spending millions of dollars to back factions fighting in Syria and Yemen at a time of economic hardship within the country.

Those talking of an “Iranian Spring” and backing the protestors, such as US President Donald Trump, are probably hoping the demonstrations will lead to the rise of more moderate forces or weaken the regime in Tehran so that it has less time to interfere in countries across West Asia. The reality is that the protests could lead to more unrest, especially if the clergy decides to use state forces to crack down.

India will be keeping a close watch on the developments in Iran for a variety of reasons. Though New Delhi curtailed oil imports from Tehran following a row over the allocation of the Farzad-B gas field to a Russian company,Iran was the largest supplier of crude to India last year. Though India is looking at diversifying its energy sources, Iran will continue to be a key supplier in the near future. Then there is Iran’s role in Afghanistan, where it is believed to be working in concert with Russia to strengthen links with the Taliban to counter US influence. Iran is also key to the development of a transit corridor centred round the Chabahar port that India hopes to use to circumvent Pakistan. If there is a wave of unrest in Iran, the ripples will also be felt in India.