Foreign Policy: India as a Pole in Itself
25, Nov 2022
Prelims level : International Relations Mains level : GS-II International Relations | Bilateral, Regional and Global Groupings and agreements involving India
Why in News?
- The ongoing war in Ukraine on the one hand and the confrontation between Russia and the United States and the West, on the other have increased the frequency/regularity of the question, whose side is India on, after all? Is India with Russia or with the U.S./the West in this war?
What is the issue of India taking the either side?
- India doesn’t support the either camp: When great powers seek India’s support during geopolitical contestations, such as the one over Ukraine, they end up facing a stubborn India that is reluctant to toe the line.
- India is not a satellite state: The inherent reason behind Indian reluctance, however, is not stubbornness but a sense of self which views itself as a pole in the international system, and not as a satellite state or a camp follower.
- India has a different position than two poles: India refuses to take sides because it views itself as a side whose interests are not accounted for by other camps or poles.
- India projects the multipolar world order: New Delhi’s constant exhortations of a multipolar world are also very much in tune with this thinking about itself as a pole in a multipolar world.
India’s history of not taking the side (non-alignment):
- Historically different civilization: The origins of this thought can be found in the character of the country’s long struggle for independence; the pre- and post-Independence articulations of leaders such as Jawaharlal Nehru, Gandhiji, and Bal Gangadhar Tilak among others on international politics; the (not uncontested) primacy India inherited as the legatee state of the British empire in South Asia; India’s larger than life civilizational sense of self.
- Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) experiment: NAM have contributed to India’s desire for a unique foreign policy identity and a voice in the comity of nations. For much of its modern independent history, India’s foreign policy has been a unique experiment.
- Independent foreign policy: Historically, India’s view of itself as a pole is evident in the manner in which it used to pursue non-alignment for several decades after Independence. Some vestiges of this continue to inform India’s foreign policy to this day.
- Non-alignment is not a neutrality: It is also important to point out that India’s non-alignment is often misunderstood given that a number of foreign commentators and practitioners interpret it as neutrality. For India, however, non-alignment is not neutrality, but the ability to take a position on a given issue on a case-by-case basis.
How India asserts itself as a different pole in international affairs?
- No domination in south Asia: India has a different view of itself as a pole. It has not actively sought to dominate the South Asian regional subsystem even when it could.
- No alliance like NATO: Its balancing behaviour has been subpar, it has refused to build alliances in the classical sense of the term, or sought camp followers or allegiances. As a matter of fact, even its occasional balancing behaviour (for instance, the 1971 India-Soviet Treaty during the Bangladesh war) was contingent on emergencies.
- South Asia is not a Strategic periphery: It does believe it has a strategic periphery in South Asia where it has a natural claim to primacy.
- Doesn’t allow interference in south Asia: It discourages interference by other powers in that space.
- India speaks for global south: India often tends to speak for ‘underprivileged collectives’, physical (South Asia) or otherwise (NAM, developing nations, global south, etc. in varying degrees); and it welcomes the rule of law and regional order.
What should world learn from India’s position as a pole in itself?
- India as unique player in international system: India’s recent or past statements on issues of global importance be it Ukraine or Iraq, or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s aerial campaign in Serbia, or bringing climate change to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) indicate that it tends to take positions that not just suit its interests but are also informed by its sense of being a unique player on the global stage.
- India as partner not cheerleader: Western powers must, therefore, treat India as a partner rather than as a cheerleader. They should mainstream India into global institutions such as the UNSC, and consult India rather than dictate to India which side to take.
- As India becomes the chair of the G20 and the SCO in 2022, it will further seek to assert itself as a major pole in the international system, and dissuade demands to follow one camp or another. Therefore, those wishing to work with India on the global stage must learn to deal with the ‘India pole’.