India’s Foreign Policy: A Critical Analysis

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Diplomatic_missions_of_India

By Joshika Saraf, Jindal Global Law School, Haryana.

India, one of the leading economies of the world is questioned now and then on various things – Foreign Policy is one of them. It is not a dinner table discussion issue but over the years has acquired the status as one of the most debatable topics in the world due to its growing influence on other nations.

India is no exception to the rule that a country’s foreign policy grows out of the interplay between internal and external environments as interpreted in tune with the cultural, historical and personality characteristics of the leadership of the country.[1]India is often spoken of in the same breath as China because of its billion-plus population, economic promise, value as a trading partner and growing military capabilities. India has abundance of soft power and is committed to democratic institutions, the rule of law and human rights to a very great extent. It has a huge and talented Diaspora. With its enormous coastline and respected navy, so rated by its American Counterpart, India is well placed to provide security in a critical part of global commons.[2]Nevertheless, while change has been the trend of the times, the foreign policies of large countries like India are always rooted in a set of core values.

These do not change with the usual turnover of governments and leaders and nor do they alter much over time. India’s commitment to internationalism, independence of judgement in the conduct of external relations, support for world democratisation and contributions to the maintenance of international peace and security are enduring legacies of India’s national movement and enjoy strong bipartisan support. We can see a lot of reasons for India’s role as a modifier instead of a major change maker.

Although having in possession such kind of beneficiaries, the contradiction which we see in the aspiration and the strategy so followed by India is gigantic. There is a big disconnect due to which India is boxed in as a South Asian power and hence, the statement, “India wants to modify the current world order but never want to overthrow it.”

India is the home to 17% population of the world. Generally, 17% percent of the population of the world being represented by India should have some major role play in world politics, but things have been quite different with India. India is not having permanent seat in the United Nations. This is partially because India is not very excited about the idea of being a permanent United Nations member and secondly, because of the fact that becoming a permanent member at United Nations would warrant better standards in political, economic and social stature which India is yet to achieve. This leads us to the status quo that India has remained very moderate in influencing the world order. But what is that thing which is holding back India from becoming a major player in Global politics? India has for long been a tolerant country which does not essentially believes in the policy of interfering.

India is not been very excited to become a permanent member at United Nations for the fact that international pressure may force India take decisions then, which India would never take now. But this mediocrity does not implies that India is submissive/accepting everything happening around the world including the Arab Spring or the war against terror in Pakistan. India tends to follow two ways, either by uniting other weaker nations against hegemons or by agreeing with the Western Nations taking in consideration its self-interest.

India always wants to unite weaker nations as compared to the hegemons as one single unit so that they can fight against the powerful nation (United States in this logic). We can see this technique being used in various events stating from Gandhian principle of Non Violence and Satyagraha where he advocated the weaker Indians to fight against their oppressors to the Non Aligned Movement by Pandit Nehru where he wanted to integrate the weak nations of the world and coming to BRICS where the growing economies have united and has become one single unit so that their reliance on the Western Powers can minimise. Instances such as recognition of Palestine, active role in BRICS, significant economical assistance to the dead nations such as Afghanistan, shows the Indian desire to bring the third world nations to an equal footing with the neo capitalists, while the development of the major universal conventions and treaties. However, even with this attitude, India has not taken an extreme stance like countries such as Cuba, Venezuela and completely revolt against US. Rather, India has accepted them as the leaders while moving towards the change.

India has always taken this stance of following a moral aspect to its diplomacy. Like Pandit Nehru referred to the Kashmir issue in UN but never fought it. If we come to policies like Look East Policy, India has focussed on South East Asian nations and has formed stronger economic, political and cultural ties with nations like Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, China etc. instead of focussing on West which is already advanced. Indians have been these pacifists who do not want to adopt the lines of dictating anyone because of the baggage of colonial rule which they have.

India has a constant fear of losing its sovereignty once again and hence always stays neutral when it comes to issues like NATO forces. . India still maintains a healthy relation with soviet Russia despite growing Proximity with US and Western Europe. They do not want to engage themselves among the Big daddy nations like US and UK and would rather maintain a ‘friendly’ relation with these countries. As US ally, India has always favoured the concept of western liberal democracy’s establishment in small/ big states, especially the ones who have had a history of dictatorial regime. Due to such dual stands taken by India at different points of time, questions like whether India will see its values and interests in the expansion of the international liberal order to include itself, or whether it will be tempted by the legacy of Third World Neutralism, has become one of the most fundamental questions of this century.[3]

India’s economic profile has grown though the capabilities of the state do not yet meet the demands placed on it, and changes of leadership have taken place through peaceful elections. Equally important is the fact that the structure of the international system within which India operates, and which it hopes to held shape, is itself in a state of flux; it is neither bipolar, nor unipolar for more than a moment, nor yet multipolar, as many would prefer. Indian foreign policy has naturally, if slowly adjusted and will surely be amended to meet current and future challenges.[4]

Even with the establishment of organizations such as WTO and ratification of treaties such as TRIPS, India has always stood out as the representative of the developing democracies while balancing the clash between trade &socio economic rights. India is a proponent of socio-economic rights and puts them over policies such as intellectual property, which is against the ideology of the major players of WTO. Yet, the several amendments in India’s laws and slow transformation reflect its effort to strengthen the existing world order rather than changing it completely.

India does not want to change or reshape the current world order. There is no long term doctrine because of which it remains an individual action and does not really add up to the larger plan. India wants the world to be multipolar but again there is no grand strategy so as to achieve this aspiration. India aspires to be a big league and want to be treated equally but for that India has to become a one major pole of its own.

India fails to achieve this due to several reasons like time, lack of grand strategy/doctrine, competition from other nations (like China doesn’t want India to become a permanent member of UNSC) and most importantly the domestic issues. It is chocked in itself with problems like regional disparity, illiteracy, pollution, poverty, energy and infrastructure crisis etc. At such a time, it becomes more important for a country like India to focus on its domestic problems. Only ones a country gets rid of its internal politics it can play a dynamic role in the world. India and the other third world countries cannot be expected to have a prominent role in global politics at current.

“India, she now knew, would not be content staying in the background, was nobody’s wallpaper, insisted in interjecting itself into everyone’s life, meddling with it, twisting it, moulding it beyond recognition. India, she had found out, was a place of political intrigue and economic corruption, a place occupied by real people with their incessantly human needs, desires, ambitions, and aspirations, and not the exotic, spiritual, mysterious entity that was a creation of the Western imagination”- these lines by Thrity Umrigar in “The Weight of Heaven” to a very large extent satisfies the expectations so expected out of a country like India.

India needs to become a strong pole and take a very powerful stand which not only means being powerful than the rest but also to look after and to act in regard with the general welfare of its followers. India needs to broaden its perspective in terms of geography and is supposed to understand the need of a psychological shift which inculcates the transformation from a very myopic vision to one which looks out for greater say.

Again, as has been pointed out before, the back seat taken by India as to the world affairs does not means India gives an implied consent to everything happening around the world. This implies that India may have a different ideology or strategy as solution to a specific world problem and this ideology or strategy might be based on a completely unique line of thought. However, India would never want to impose such a policy, for it still realizes that it has not achieved that stature where it can take a proactive role in world politics. The Foreign policy of India has been very adaptive all throughout. It has designed its system in such a manner that it has built dispute resolution mechanisms which include dialogue, negotiations and consultations. The India Foreign policy is framed with an aim to maintain healthy relations with all its major allies and neighbours. The fact that India is a tolerant country is reflected in its foreign policies as well. India needs to look after the issue of fulfilling its needs at a domestic level (like that of resources which is largely imported) so that it can achieve Self Sufficiency.

India should start to shape its own destiny and the fate of its region. It needs to take strategy more seriously and build a foreign service that is fitting for a great power. It should look beyond short-term self-interest because that is what a great power does.


[1]Assessing reorientation of India’s Foreign Policy in a Globalized World, Surjitmansingh, SAGE Publications,

[2]Can India become great power, The Economist,  30March, 2013

[3]China’s challenge to the liberal order, India’s attraction to it , and the possibilities for western revitalization in light of the global embrace of Democratic norms by Stephen Szabo, Global Trends 2030, May 29, 2012

[4]Assessing reorientation of India’s Foreign Policy in a Globalized World, Surjitmansingh, SAGE Publications