Can India become a great power?[1]

India’s lack of strategic culture shamble its ambition to be a power in the world.

Nobody doubts that china has joined the ranks of the great power: the idea of a G-2 with America is mooted, albeit prematurely. India is often spoken in the same breath as china because of its billion plus population, growing military capabilities, economic promise, value as a trading partner. But whereas china’s rise is a given, India is still widely seen a nearly power that cannot quite get its act together. That position of being a superpower but deprived of authorities is quite deplorable. Although less economically dynamic and poor than china, India has soft power in abundance. It is more committed Human Rights or democratic institutions or rule of law etc. It maintains its top rank of the fight against terrorism as a victim of jihadist violence. Not to forget the navy which is ranked equal to NATO standards in the way they exercise by America.      

The foundation of the Indian foreign policy was laid during the freedom movement when our leaders even when fighting for independence were engaged in the great cause s of that time. These visions are very well explained in Rahul Sagar’s Ideology, Bland strategy, where he says that Indian Foreign policy is driven by four competing visions of India’s place in International system: Moralist, Hindu nationalist, and liberals. Moralists mostly adopted the Nehruvian policy which mainly focused on the idea of non-violence as adopted by Gandhi. He followed the non alignment policy, which sought to maximise the India’s autonomy by eschewing an unequivocal alliance with either the soviet bloc or west. It is the policy of love and peace.  Nehru quoted, “It is true that nobody will listen to you if you are weak, but, as you develop your strength to negotiate, unfortunately other party also goes on developing strength”[2].

Non aligned movement (NAM)[3], Under the Nehruvian approach India followed the policy of non alignment during its cold war era. It was believed that this policy will give powers in hand of India to choose for herself rather getting imposed by other powers. The idea of multilateralism was followed by them so as to gain a strategic position in the international forum. Also in 1950’s new role was created for India when it was seeing in the neutral position between Moscow and Washington. However,west critised this policy of India. The main objective was not to form a third block altogether but compliment the pursuit of her international objectives India’s tradition of strategic restraint has in some ways served the country well. NAM (Non Aligned Movement) is a symbolic development towards India’s 

approach to bringing about a change in international politics. NAM has been borne out of India’s wish to create an approach towards international politics which aims to prevent power-play in international organizations. India has never showed any wish to overthrow the existing powers of the world, instead always tried to modify it.

Jairam Ramesh quoted, ‘We are showing some flexibility because we do not want to become isolated. We do not want to earn a reputation as a deal breaker”.

United nation security council (UNSC)[4], Along with India pragmatism in its foreign policy came to the realization that increasingly India would have to pursue less universal and abstract forums rather focusing on the promotion of its own evolving interest. Also India in the global hierarchy of influence and power inevitably started ascending. For many years India has been claiming its permanent seat in UNSC. Although most of the P5 nations do not have any issues with India’s inclusion, China’s hostility and insecurities with Japan is making the situation critical. Her demand if fulfilled will only bring fresh perspective on the table. In the meantime, a well-formulated stance on issues without being indecisive would make India’s case for a permanent seat at the horse-shoe table well-earned. The G-4 nations are the key players in their regional areas, and definitely the countries with brighter future.  

Having little to show for several for several limited wars with Pakistan and one with china, India tends to respond to provocations with caution. It has long running territorial disputes with both its big neighbours, but it usually tries not to inflame them. The defence ministry is unceasingly short of military expertise. India does not go looking for trouble and that has generally been to its advantage.

But lack of strategic culture comes to its cost. Pakistan is dangerous and unstable, loaded with nuclear weapons and torn apart by jihadist violence. Yet India is still not developed with the thoughts to overpower. Government falsely always hopes of getting relations better by increased trades. It needs to work hard to heel the running sore of Kashmir and supporting Pakistan’s civilian government. Enough has been seen and talked about China and India just like other neighbours of china has every reason to be nervous.

Other countries are not immune to the push and pull of domestic politics, India’s challenge remains that it has not yet developed a habit of pacifying domestic pressures with a result oriented stance in some multilateral institutions.India should start to shape its own destiny and fate of its region. It needs to take strategy more seriously and build a foreign service that is fitting for a great power.

Time to modify

India’s international political actions have always been contradictory to her motives.  Adopting a moralistic approach towards international politics has served India negatively. India’s foreign policy ought to be based on a more liberalistic line of thought or based on 

other practical terms. It should opt for approaches which have broader perspective, like global responsibility, etc. As mentioned by Pramit Pal Chaudhuri in his article that India is relatively weak in its military powers and has limited resources, but is willing to compromise with its values and democracy when the security is at stake. The voluntary non-binding route has defined its commitments is more attractive for present but as its weight and economy grows further it will be hard to stick to its path. Also a major role is played by the domestic policies in determining the position of the country on the, ‘Hot button’ International issues. India’s main challenge in the future will be to balance domestic politics – both economic and political, with a desire for international status.


[1] Headings from ,“ The Economist March 30th 2013”, pg 1ss1

[2] V. Krishnappa and Princy Marin George , Grand ideology for India 2020 and beyond 2012 ,chapter 4 ,by Sagar RahulPublisher: Pentagon Security International ISBN: 978-81-8274-657-2, pg.66-71

[3] Rohan Mukherjee and David M. Malone (2011) From High Ground to High Table: The Evolution of Indian Multilateralism. Global Governance: A Review of Multilateralism and International Organizations: July-September 2011, Vol. 17, No. 3, pp. 251-255

[4] Rohan Mukherjee and David M. Malone (2011) From High Ground to High Table: The Evolution of Indian Multilateralism. Global Governance: A Review of Multilateralism and International Organizations: July-September 2011, Vol. 17, No. 3, pp. 258-260


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