As India celebrates its 75 years of Indian foreign policy and its positioning in the global architecture, it needs to be evaluated that how India has placed itself and whether there is need for course correction to better position India and envision its role in future. One of the articles written by Rahul Sagar states that India has different schools of thought which have placed it as idealists, Hindu nationalists, strategic thinkers better known as strategists, and liberals who have shaped up India’s policy approach over a period of time. India’s foreign policy up to which has been focus primarily on three pillars which includes righteousness, ethics, and forbearance. This also created edifice which is primarily derived from ancient texts, Vedas, and religious discourses. Two aspects Dhamma and peace are the watermarks in Indian policy framework.
In fact, foreign minister S Jaishankar writes in his book that India is increasingly seen as Krishna where it looks into both sides of the coin and tries to decide the best course of action which can meander through difficult choices. Also, it is critical to note that the Nehruvian phase was rooted in idealist notions, and was apathetic to the development of the military forces which can take care of difficult neighbours including Pakistan and China. The differences between General Thimayya and VK Krishna Menon is well documented and shows the complete disregard for developing capacities of Indian armed forces. There is no denying of the fact that idealism has placed India as the epicentre of discourses relating to priorities of developing nations and unity among newly independent Afro-African nations. Nehru tried very hard to build idealist notions of global politics but the problem was not every leader in the global arena was Woodrow Wilson. This approach could not look into the utility of force however Nehruvian thought brought India as a respectable leader among the developing nations.
Three major events shaped up India’s foreign policy- the Panchsheel Agreement 1954, 1971 Indo-Soviet Friendship treaty, the 1987 India- Sri Lanka Accord and India’s nuclear tests in 1998.. Further, the development of India’s foreign policy was also dependent upon the political leadership, domestic priorities, and international outlook. One cannot deny the fact that national resources, military leadership and intelligence apparatus also shaped the international outlook. Therefore, one can see that engagement of African nations through IAFS meetings, ASEAN countries, Central Asian republics, and better relations with Israel were all part of larger foreign policy footprints. One must all acknowledge that despite having not a big diplomatic core, India’s views have been noted and argued. Specifically, India’s position with regard to sustainable development goals, comprehensive disarmament (Rajiv Gandhi Action plan), consensus on counter terrorism initiatives, South- South cooperation, and crisis management through mediation is well known. One of the important aspects which still requires lot of attention is developing the overall diplomatic history and collecting data and information through interviews, official files, and archives is still a work in progress. Countries like New Zealand have done a wonderful work in this regard.
Few of the areas where India has lost includes the UN Security Council seat because of uncertainties in its role and the charm of leading the developing nations. India’s ambivalent attitude related to its nuclear power status also created problems very recently, as it has to face sanctions post 1998 nuclear tests despite knowing the very fact that it could have developed its nuclear capacities much earlier.The scientific capacities and acumen was there among the Indian scientists. Nehru was completely against the development of nuclear weapons despite prodding by nuclear scientist Homi Jahangir Bhaba but on the other hand Indira Gandhi was the one who looked into the nuclear power status with much seriousness way back in 1969. There is no denying of the fact the development of the Indian economy opened new gates of cooperation and collaboration with various countries across spectrum. However, it is well known that the 3 pillars of national security which includes diplomacy, intelligence, and military need to be working cohesively to protect the national interest and work with like minded countries in raising pertinent international issues.
India’s approach towards West Asia, its pro- Soviet tilt while at the same time processing non alignment, gave birth to strategic autonomy and at the same time look for possible temporary alignments with major powers depending on compulsions and constraints. If one looks into the nomenclature of its relationships with West Asia it starts with Look West policy and culminates in Think West policy. While in the case of Central Asia, given the buffer region of Afghanistan, it is named as connect Central Asia policy. However, one of the most successful policy pronouncements has been the Look East Policy which transcended in to Enhanced Look East Policy (2013) and now is known as Act East policy(2014 onwards). These policies were primarily aimed at looking for leverage in understanding the larger geopolitics of that particular region. The region wise approach and the subject wise divisions within the Ministry of External Affairs Is a manifestation of how India approach is both from regional perspective as well as its own security perspective.
India has difficult choices right from the start and still is facing challenges with regard to its omniscient patrician stance which looks into the knowledge which have been gained through ages and the wisdom which is acquired through experience. However, at times, all these knowledge-based policy pronouncements came crashing down with the Sino Indian war in 1962 and also challenges that it faced while settling the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan. At times, the dilemma of policy approach in global politics cost dearly to the Indian establishment.
In terms of India’s neo-realist approach one must acknowledge the role which has been played by Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi which completely digressed from the Nehruvian fundamentals. This led to the better management of military resources and looking into best possible permutation in Indian foreign policy. These experiences which have garnered over the period of seven and a half decades also held India to upgrade its foreign policy establishment abroad which includes bringing in scientific advisors, technical consultants, cultural representatives and also utilising diaspora as one of the elements of foreign policy approach.
If one looks into the leadership subsequently which includes Morarji Desai who was much of an idealist so much so that he compromised few of the covert operations that India was undertaking in Pakistan. At times it has been found that the coalition governments have been so much engaged into domestic compulsions that foreign policy approach have been left in limbo.
In terms of proactive engagement, one cannot forget the role played by Narasimha Rao in working out India’s look east policy and subsequently also looking into the possible nuclear tests (in 1995) which was somehow sabotaged by US constraints and compulsions. Narasimha Rao was much of an erudite statesman who had built very good relationship with the opposition led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. This kind of convergence between the ruling party and opposition was one of the periods when there were synergies in foreign policy making and a participative approach of the opposition to work out a congenial settlement. Before Narasimha Rao, the role which have been played earlier by Rajiv Gandhi was also more of a suave and liberal politician who wanted to mend fences with countries like China and also expanded itself into building bridges with the US allies such as Australia.
Following Narasimha Rao, the role played by people like Atal Bihari Vajpayee who were realist but have a liberal inkling which led to the Lahore bus service and also detonation of nuclear device in 1998. Atal Bihari Vajpayee also make sure that India should respond very legitimately against Pakistan incursions in Kargil. Succeeding Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh has been criticised much for his rather reluctant leadership qualities but he was also instrumental into major ways by signing the Indo US nuclear deal in 2005 and also stressing on the need for developing India’s strategic think tanks.
Invariably it has been seen that India’s foreign policy approach has been well rooted in the objective of mediation, peace, building national and international consensus, and also looking forward for better synergies with the countries which agree on common grounds such as global commons for international development, protecting international law, rules based order, promoting international peace, countering terrorism and political violence, and developing the core foundations for South South cooperation.
Again, if one looks into inherent omniscient patrician aspect there are flaws in the approach that India has taken multiple times. India has also believed that it has a sense of entitlement given its ancient civilization and the pragmatic wisdom that it has acquired over the ages. Even now India has always been stated as the ‘global guru’ and aspired for building this concept of Vasudev Kutumbakam which buttress on international peace and community building approach. These types of pronouncements are a sense of continuity with the earlier approach taken during the Nehruvian times and India has built upon that. However, one must acknowledge the role has played with regard to Cambodia, Indonesia and other crisis torn regions have been left because of changes in government and the transitory politics which have been played by coalition governments which came in multiple phases during the India 75 years of history.
India under Modi is working somewhere between the core fundamentals of foreign policy while at the same time looking into the foundations put up by Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi as well as liberalist approach which was promoted by people like Rajiv Gandhi. It would not be wrong to say that Prime Minister Modi is embedding all these core fundamentals and working out the strategy which is best for projecting India as a legitimate stakeholder in the international politics. One must also acknowledge that about a decade back there has been debate and discourses with regard to non-Alignment 2.0. There have been books which have been stated that India is a reluctant power, and the power which is yet to gain it’s potential at the international stage. However, one must also acknowledge that with the changing geopolitical dynamics, the return of the phase which was there during the Cold War with alignment between Russia and China on ideological lines.
The global leadership is prodding India to act as a mediator in resolving the Ukraine Russia crisis, is a manifestation of India’s foreign policy which has reached a stage where everybody looks into India as one of the leaders in the international sphere. In terms of strategic aspects and foreign policy pronouncements as well as priorities it is interesting that India’s foreign policy has now matured and shows the resolved to undertake hard decisions and one of the best biggest achievements that India has made over a period of time is having the best of the relations with Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Israel all at the same time.
Few strategic partnerships with adjective such as special, preferred, desired also shows the gradient of ties and the utility of these partnerships. India now has more than 30 such strategic partnerships with major players across the world. India’s hard-earned approach with regard to counter terrorism in institutions such as UN showcases that India’s voice is now being hard on important aspects. There has been also been calls from different quarters to say that there should be a resumption of secretary level talks with Pakistan but given the stature that India has achieved, the country has become more inert to the Pakistan’s overtures thereby making Pakistan as one of the pariah states in the international sphere. However, Pakistan is always seen as a bargaining chip by countries such as US and China which believe that Pakistan can be instrumental in keeping India within South Asian space.
One must acknowledge that the 75 years of Indian foreign policy has been a learning curve. But for India to gain a stature which is matching with its ancient civilizational past, and the might of its youthful population as well as economy can be manifested only if India take a cue from its diplomatic past and work out its role in institutions such as UN, IMF, World Bank both through two different blocs represented by Quad countries and BRICS.
For India in the coming next 75 years is likely to be challenges but one fruitful thing which has happened over a period of time is that India has built its economy, developed military capabilities and astute leadership which can pave way for India. The one challenge that India is being facing is that opposition parties are washing their dirty linen in international space and has been acting in a very strange way where every possible aspect of national interest has been narrated in a different way altogether. One must acknowledge that the synergies which used to exist between Narasimha Rao and Atal Bihari Bajpai at one point of time is completely missing in the Indian polity. However, one of the reasons is the marginalization of the opposition party and their inability to look into India as a cohesive one unit and rather than settling domestic issues abroad they must also workout cohesive environment for discussion and discourse without hampering India’s interests.