India's Foreign Policy Today
As India celebrates its 72nd Independence Day this year, India is a self-confident nation able to manage its external relations on its own terms. It can engage the United States as a strategic partner even as it can chart its own course vis-à-vis Russia and China. It can stand with China to raise its voice against global protectionism and yet it can stand up to China when its vital interests are targeted, like in Doklam last year. If there is one power that sits relatively confident in today’s rapidly evolving global dynamic when all other powers are openly competing with each other, it is India. Let there be no doubt about it.
As India’s economic weight has grown in international relations, its voice and partnerships are much sought after. A pluralist democracy growing rapidly at its own pace with all its inherent contradictions is a story which a world deeply in crisis wants to hear. And Indian policy makers increasingly are not averse to narrating their case. For any nation — and in particular for a self-proclaimed rising power — it is crucial that it sets out its own narrative about its place in the global pecking order. For the last two decades, China has managed to do it extremely effectively that after two decades of being a rising power, the world suddenly woke up one day to a China which has seemingly arrived. Indian leadership today is signaling that it too has grown up and has recognized that the need of the hour is to link India domestic development story with the global one.
Indian foreign policy has been evolving over the last few years as New Delhi’s engagements with Africa, Latin America, West Asia, and Southeast Asia have gained a new traction. Our investments, trade, energy relations, diaspora bonds and strategic interests involving bilateral, regional and global dimensions underpin the rising India.
With a $2.5 trillion economy and global reach in trade and investment, India needs new partners and new partnerships, it needs a more robust footprint in various parts of the world, and it needs a narrative about what it intends to do with the accretion of its material capabilities. Indian policymakers too are coming to terms with this weight of history. India’s evolving debates about its environmental policy or trade policy or even military presence abroad underscore this reality. We signed the Paris accord and also the Kigali agreement. Our commitments are huge in terms of renewable energy.
India has been developing alternative strategic,economic and developmental narratives with its leading presence in BRICS, AIIB and to a lesser extent in SCO.
India is a nuclear weapon power and it brings with it responsibility and power. India’s record in the management of nuclear weapons is globally acknowledged and thus we have been given waivers by NSG. Membership of MTCR, Australia and Wassenaar groups is also similarly to be noted. We are already there in G-20. Part of the reason for global economy revival is India’s growth after the Lehman closure in 2018. We are seriously contending to be permanent veto wielding members of UNSC.
The challenges continue to exist though. The challenge from Pakistan remains and the growing Chinese footprint in the wider South Asian and Indian Ocean region is challenging India on multiple fronts. There are no easy answers as Indian neighbors will try not to choose between two rising powers in their vicinity. And China will intrude but we need to engage and manage. China’s rise will remain the single most important issue facing the nation for the foreseeable future. Yet, it is a sign of India’s strategic evolution that today Pakistan problem is widely considered a subset of India’s China problem.
India has a sizeable and powerful diaspora of about 28 million PIOs and NRIs who are very influential and have contributed to our external sector and foreign policy and we continue to nurture them with our “ dual nationality” policy(OCI card) and otherwise.
As India rises and overcomes the “hesitations of history,” a more dynamic conversation on the causes and consequences of India’s rise is the need of the hour. India’s sustenance of its foreign commitments will ultimately depend on how invested the common Indian is in shaping her nation’s foreign policy profile and for it public diplomacy is being encouraged.
(Partly drew from the thoughts of Prof. Harsh Pant)