Published from Mumbai, Delhi & Bhopal

Slammed by the West, Iranian President Raisi built bridges of friendship with India

Starting as a cleric before moving to the judiciary where he had to solve complex legal cases, and then to politics, where he had to handle tricky issues as Iran’s President, Ebrahim Raisi had a varied and successful career.

Raisi, who died in a helicopter crash as he was returning from the Azerbaijan border on Sunday after flagging off joint projects with his Azeri counterpart Ilham Aliyev, was born on December 14, 1960 in north-eastern city of Mashhad, went to the Islamic seminary of Qom, and gradually rose in his career as a prosecutor and politician.

It did not take Raisi long enough to climb the career success ladder as he became the country’s head of judiciary in 2019 and eventually succeeded Hassan Rouhani as Iran’s eighth President in June 2021.

In the following years, as he solidified his anti-West stand, 63-year-old Raisi was strongly seen as a possible successor to his mentor, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

Even as Washington blamed Tehran for non-compliance with its Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) commitments, Raisi concentrated on deepening relations with countries like Russia and China.

Weathering several storms, including nationwide protests in September 2022 after the death of Kurdish Iranian woman Mahsa Amini, Raisi emerged as a leader who was not going to wilt under pressure.

As Iran-Russia trade and defence cooperation grew massively, Raisi intensified ties with Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin travelling to Tehran in July 2022 – his first trip beyond the territory of former Soviet states since the start of the war with Ukraine.

Under Raisi, Tehran was not only accused of supplying deadly drones to Russia but also selling weapons to countries in Africa, including Sudan.

At the same time, Raisi was building new partnerships, including with India making rapid strides in development under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

India has been pushing extensively for the utilisation of New Delhi-backed Chabahar port in Iran, and its inclusion in the INSTC framework for improving the land-locked Central Asian region’s connectivity with the outside world.

The large-scale 7,200 km-long North-South multimodal trade corridor, which will start from Mumbai with nodes in West Asia, Central Asia, Caucasia and Russia, would eventually link the far-west Russian city of Saint Petersburg to the ports of Iran and India.

In July 2023, Iran – an observer state till then – got a full membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) under the rotating chairmanship of India.

A few months later, during their bilateral meeting in Johannesburg on the sidelines of the BRICS Summit, both PM Modi and Raisi also agreed upon fast-tracking infrastructure cooperation, focusing especially on the Chabahar project and the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) – the 7,200 km-long multimodal trade corridor linking Russia with India via the ports of Iran.

Acknowledging India’s growth as an emerging power, Raisi had urged PM Modi to accelerate the process of Iran’s admission to the powerful five-member BRICS grouping that includes Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa.

He also backed New Delhi’s approach that lays significance on strengthening the transport and logistics architecture of the Eurasian region via the INSTC and its linking to Chabahar.

Ironically, India and Iran signed a 10-year contract for the operation of Chabahar Port on May 13, a project which was close to Raisi’s heart as well.

Hindi Website