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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 13, New Delhi, March 13, 2021

Changing Goals of India’s Foreign Policy: An Analysis | P S Jayaramu

Friday 12 March 2021

by P. S. Jayaramu

An attempt is made here to reflect on the changing goals of India’s Foreign Policy( IFP). The author’s desire is to present the broad goals of IFP, and not get into a discussion of bilateral relations, except cursorily referring to them wherever necessary.

Pre-independence Foreign Policy:

India is perhaps the only country in the world which had articulated its foreign policy even before it became independent. The doyen of Pre-independence period of foreign policy, Prof. Bimal Prasad, (the PhD guide of this writer at the School of International Studies, JNU) wrote extensively about how the Indian National Congress projected its foreign policy stance on international issues.( Bimla Prasad, The Origins of India’s Foreign Policy, (Calcutta, Book Land Pvt.Ltd, 1962). In his book, he has explained in detail how the INC articulated its concerns independently of the British. References are made to India’s opposition to the British annexation of Upper Burma, support to the independence struggles of Syria, Egypt and Congress’s disassociation with British India’s policies leading to the the Second World War, all with the intention of projecting an independent position from that of the British Indian foreign policy. Jawaharlal Nehru, who headed the foreign policy cell of the INC did a superb job as its spokesperson. His address to the Congress of Oppressed Nationalities in Brussels in 1927 reflected the foreign policy objectives of an India which was struggling for independence.

Foreign Policy after 1947:

When India became independent, Jawaharlal Nehru, as Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, articulated forcefully the goals of our foreign policy, that of opposition to colonialism, imperialism and racialism. Under his leadership, India passed a series of resolutions expressing its support to the Asian-African nations in their struggle against imperial powers. India also played a very quiet, but positive role, in the UN Commiittee on Decolonisation to hasten the process of independence of the colonies in Asia and Africa. Support to the African National Congress’s struggle against Apartheid in South Africa was expressed in abundant measure.

At the global level, Nehru’s India made the conscious decision to stay away from the entangling alliances of the Cold War and fashioned the foreign policy strategy of Nonalignment. It was also an expression of India’s/ Nehru’s desire to become a leading voice of the vast majority of the developing nations, which came to be described in later years as the Third World. Accordingly, Nehru organised Asian Relations Conferences in 1947 and 1949, the Bandung conference in 1955 and worked closely with Nasser and Marshall Tito to lay the foundations of the Nonaligned Movement(NAM). The first NAM summit took place in Yugoslavia in 1961 with Nehru playing a leading role in it. NAM grew from strength to strength in the years that followed.

In keeping with its pacifist approach, India under Nehru, also played a key role in pleading with the US and USSR to take to the path of Nuclear Disarmament. When the Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT) was signed in 1963, Nehru praised it as the first step towards Nuclear Disarmament and made India a signatory to it.

At the regional level, Nehru’s goal was to carve out of an Area of Peace, Asian Solidarity and peaceful coexistence (Panchasheel) with China. The pacifist in him made Nehrut to ignore the military dimensions of the challenge from China,for which we payed the price in 1962. The regional realities marked by the divergent goals and approaches of China and Pakistan were such that India could not achieve success in the realisation of its goals of Area of Peace and Asian Solidarity. As for China, Nehru confessed to the error in his perception of military threat from China. As a corrective measure, he introduced the five years defence plan in 1963, after the debacle in the Sino Indian War of 1962, which was continued by his successors more vigorously.

Indira era:

India’s foreign poliicy goals of anti-imperialism continued under Indira Gandhi. As a reflection of the changing times, she put India in the forefront to express her commitment to the passage of resolutions on Indian Ocean as a Zone of Peace, (IOPZ), and New International Economic Order ((NIEO) at the UN General Assembly in 1974. Mrs. Gandhi passionately pushed for North-South dialogue to establish an equitable international order based on justice and worked closely with Fidel Castro of Cuba and Julius Nyerere of Tanzania to ensure a global voice for the developing countries on key issues of international affairs. Indira Gandhi also worked consciously towards transforming the British Commonwealth from being a white man’s club to a multi racial organisation.

As for Nuclear Disarmament, the realist in her, made Mrs. Gandhi oppose the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) as discreminatory and unequal, which favoured the nuclear haves and was against the nuclear have nots. Accordingly, India refused to sign the NPT and chose the path of keeping the nuclear option open, only to carry out a nuclear implosion in 1974 and finally to become a nuclear weapon State in1998 under Vajpayee.

With China, however, Mrs.Gandhi’s objective was to move towards normalisation of relations. In pursuance of her goal, she announced the resumption of ambassadorial relations in 1976, to be carried forward to greater levels by Rajiv Gandhi, P. V. Narasimha Rao, Atal Behari Vajpayee and Narendra Modi since 2014, which of course suffered a new low last May. The Chinese challenge is going to be a constant factor, when viewed from the perspective of a country which has already risen(China) and a rising India. The challenge has military-strategic,economic and other dimensions at the regional and global levels. Our objective, as Foreign Minister Jaishankar says, is to achieve strategic equalibrium with China. A real big challenge

Post Cold War phase goals: A paradigm shift

End of the Cold War, the disintegration of USSR, rise of United States as the unipolar power, as some scholars describe, though this writer would not agree with such descriptions, had its impact on the way the Indian leadership began to articulate its foreign policy goals, leading to a paradigm shift in its goals. The process was hastened by the primacy of economic factors over the military-strategic factors in post Cold War international politics.

P.V. Narasimha Rao became the Prime Minister in 1991 and started articulating the goals of IFP in economic terms, which continued thence forward. India’s key objective came to be one of integrating with the international economic system led by the United States, to invite foreign capital to contribute to India’s growth story, influenced by the forces of Liberalisation, Privitisation and Globalisation (LPG). Rao and his successors continued with and deepened the neo-liberal policies, which contributed to a broadening of the the process of India’s economic engagement with the West. The emphasis came to be on increased GDP growth, which did happen, though it also led to the rise of the economic and social inequalities. The technological revolution, specially in the IT sector, contributed to the emergence of India as a soft power. As the goal was also to add to the country’s hard power, efforts were made towards augmenting the same. Miilitary modernisation processes was marked by periodic purchases of weapons from the US, France, UK, not excluding Russia, the traditional arms supplier.

As part of its efforts to enhance nuclear capabilities, efforts were initiated by the UPA leadership under Dr. Man Mohan Singh to carry out negotiations for the signing of the Nuclear Deal, to overcome what was described as ‘nuclear apartheid’, though one doesn’t know what has been the tangible pay off from the Indo-US Nuclear Deal. Upscaling the relationship with the US was a priority and the same was pursued by the UPA and the successor NDA regimes, with Vajpayee declaring the US as a natural ally, a clear departure from the Nehruvian stance of being nonaligned. It is worth remembering that when India signed the Indo-Soviet Peace and Friendship Treaty in 1971 with security overtones and when critics confronted her for having compromised with Nonalignment, Mrs. Gandhi described it as a dynamic manifestation of Nonalignment! A full circle in foreign policy behavior, justified though as being a reflection of the changing interests dictated by changed circumstances.

The period witnessed a downgrading of NAM in the country’s foreign policy priorities. However, it is satisfying to note that the leadership has been articulating in bilateral and multilateral meetings its claim for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. The Permanent members of the UNSC have not shown any tangible interest in accommodating India at the global head table, their support in bilateral statements with the Indian leaders notwithstanding.

The Modi Government has the ambition of projecting the country to a leadership role, than just a balancing force globally. Foreign minister Jaishankar is fond of saying that India is committed to a rule based international order and that the same is being pursued by adopting the India way.( S. Jaishankar,The India Way: Strategies for an uncertain World ( New Delhi, Harper Colins, 2020). In reality though, one has noticed a serious effort in the strengthening of the Indo-US military- strategic relations. It would however be prudent, in keeping with our national interest, not to get sucked into a military alliance with the US in the Asia-Pacific region, though checkmatating China in the region is necessary. The India Way emphasis of foreign minister Jaishankar is, perhaps a variant of the time tested nonaligned approach to foreign policy management, whether it is officially accepted or not.

Concluding observations:

1)Going by Arnold Wolfer’s elucidation of the goals of foreign policy ( Arnold Wolfers, Discord and Collaboration, Baltimore,1962) as posession goals like preservation of a nation’s territorial integrity and sovereignty and milieu goals like working for the betterment of the international system, Nehru’s foreign policy addressed more the latter than the former. Nehru seemed to believe in Dr. Henry Kissenger’s description, (which came much later ),of responsibilities scoring over intersts in foreign policy. (Kissinger was of course talking about America.) Clearly, normative goals received greater primacy under Nehru.

2)For Mrs. Gandhi, possession goals and milieu goals both mattered equally and hence her emphasis on defence preparedness, signing of the Indo-Soviet Teaty, keeping the nuclear option open etc, along with the pursuit of milieu goals like the IOPZ, NIEO, strengthening of NAM and the like.

3) In contrast, the post-Indira leadership, by and large, accorded primacy to integrating with the international economic system by inviting multinational companies under the LPG banner, getting into the G-7 group, trying for a permanent seat in the UNSC etc, with a reduced importance to the normative goals, with the possible exception of I. K. Gujral who espoused non-reciprocity in our relations with neighbours, excluding Pakistan.

4) The dissonance between the self and the other in terms of foreign policy goals is also, perhaps, the result of the successive leadership’s dilemma as to whether India is a developing nation or in league with the developed world, strongly influenced by the desire of getting into the latter league.

5) Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s goal that India should work for a lead role, rather than that of a balancer role, in international affairs and that India believes in the pursuit of multilateralism and a rule based international order, while at the same time taking care of defence preparedness,can be described as a mix of the normative and realpolitik considerations in terms of goal articulation, though the same has not been projected with the force that it requires.

(The author is former Professor of Political Science, Bangalore University and former Senior Fellow, ICSSR, New Delhi.)

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