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Issue No.: 561 | March 2014

Manmohan Singh and India’s Foreign Policy - Part II

B. Ramesh Babu
There is hardly a major global issue that can be dealt with effectively
without India’s participation/acquiescence.

This is Part II of the article published in the February issue No. 560

"First, recognition that India’s relations with the world – both major powers and our Asian neighbours – are increasingly shaped by our development priorities. The single most important objective of Indian foreign policy has to be to create a global environment conducive to the well-being of our great country and the rest of the world. 

"Second, that greater integration with the world economy will benefit India and enable our people to realize their creative potential. 

"Third, we seek stable, long term and mutually beneficial relations with all major powers. We are prepared to work with the international community to create a global economic and security environment beneficial to all nations.

"Fourth, we recognize that the Indian subcontinent’s shared destiny requires greater regional cooperation and connectivity. Towards this end, we must strengthen regional institutional capability and capacity and invest in connectivity.

"Fifth, our foreign policy is not defined merely by our interests, but also by the values which are very dear to our people. India’s experiment of pursuing economic development within the framework of a plural, secular, and liberal democracy has inspired people around the world and should
continue to do so.” 

Let me urge the readers to look at the PM’s delineation of India’s international objectives carefully and appreciate the pride of place given to the economy in the scheme of things. Independent India came into a world that was a given reality. We had no role in it. The crucial challenge confronting the nation then was to protect its newly won freedom in the bipolar world wherein the US and the USSR were literally forcing all nations to choose between them. The policy of non-alignment was the conceptual response and the pragmatic strategy to win and sustain some degree of autonomy in the cold war era characterized by an all out worldwide conflict (short of a violent war) between the two military blocs equipped with nuclear weapons.

A quick re-look at the guiding principles elaborated by the Prime Minister will reveal how far India has moved in the global power structure over the decades. From a situation of seeking some elbow room in the bipolar world, India has grown to the stature of proclaiming "the creation of an international environment conducive to our betterment and that of the rest of the world” as the country’s objective number one!

and policy paralysis. It is indeed most ironic that the nation’s economy is in ruins under the captaincy of an expert economist! There is much wisdom in the axiom that experts should be on tap, not on the top!” 

Be that as it may, the nation’s foreign relations scene over the decade of 2004-2014 is not devoid of some achievements. We did well in the realms of South-South cooperation, North-South equation, multi-polarization of
world politics, and moving closer to the US in order to counter China. On issues of trade & tariff, and global warming, for example, we worked closely with all the developing countries in tune with our declared goal of countering the entrenched hegemony of the US and the West.

The expectation that the rising economies of China, India, ASEAN countries and Brazil would pull the world out of the recession is an indication of the perceptible shift in the North-South equation. The centre of gravity in world affairs has shifted from the Atlantic to Asia-Pacific. Refusal of the Third World to yield on the agreed commitment of "differentiated responsibilities” on global warming despite repeated onslaughts by the West is a good example of the altered balance of power. However, I should caution that what we have seen so far are early
skirmishes and the "war” ahead on this front is going to be tough and protracted!

Confrontation (in the Himalayas) and cooperation (on the North-South divide) is still the prism through which India looks at China, our most dangerous adversary. Orchestrating this double edged policy has been a tight rope walk, which has been very unsatisfactory from our perspective. The recent aggressive expansionism of China ignited the long dormant territorial disputes with Japan and many countries in Southeast Asia, which is compelling India to re-order and re-tool its China policy. It is high time our top leadership realizes that the only way to deal with the Dragon is to build a credible countervailing power.

Firstly, India should continue to strengthen its defence capabilities in the border region on a war footing. The recent build up of airlift capability in Ladakh is most welcome. Secondly, we have to keep strengthening our strategic partnership with the US. Our proximity to the US is the only thing that worries China greatly. The visit of Shinzo Abe, the Prime Minister of Japan, as the Chief Guest on Republic Day (26 January 2014) is and should be seen as a new beginning. India should shed its inhibitions in taking the US-Japan-India-Australia strategic partnership forward in a big way. Today Japan is more ready to come close to India than ever before. We should grasp the opportunity with both hands.

Our long standing policy of South-South cooperation with a view to influence the North-South equation in favour of the poor and developing countries is at last getting somewhere. IBSA and BRICS are the intercontinental institutional manifestations of the concept and strategy that were in the making for so long. If the proposed BRICS Bank moves forward rapidly and we are able to build a global monetary and fiscal alternative to the US dollar in the next decade, the Third World countries would win a "second war of independence” from the West. That takes some doing and China is willing and ready to lead the pack. But, this can and will be torpedoed if the Dragon goes ahead with its aggressive designs in the South China Sea and beyond.

The visit of the German President Joachim Gauck to India on 6 February 2014 so soon after the visit of the Japanese Prime Minister suggests a concerted new initiative by G-4 nations (Brazil, Germany, India, and Japan) to secure seats in the expanded United Nations Security Council.

Though many people around the world do not know, over the years India has emerged on the world scene as a significant donor of economic aid and appropriate technical assistance at less cost, especially to Asian and African countries. Since the beginning of this century India’s economic, political and cultural relations with Latin American countries have registered a paradigm shift and the potential for the future is literally limitless.

In conclusion let me say that our economic slowdown and the policy paralysis under the Sonia-Singh regime have put a halt to our rise as a major global player. Let us hope that the 2014 elections will lead to a reversal of the downward trend!

DR. RAMESH BABU is a specialist in International Relations, American Politics and Foreign Policy.
He is a Visiting Professor at the University of Hyderabad, 2013-2014. 
He is the Scholar in Residence, Foundation for Democratic Reforms, Hyderabad. Formerly, he was the Sir Pherozeshah Mehta Professor of Civics and Politics,University of Mumbai. 





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