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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 36, New Delhi, August 21, 2021

India in world affairs during last 74 years | P S Jayaramu

Friday 20 August 2021


by P. S. Jayaramu

( 16th August, 2021)

India has entered the 75th year of it’s independence and it is a proud moment for us, though it is not a long time in a nation’s history. An attempt is made here to reflect on the role played by India in world affairs.

In a way, India’s role in international affairs preceded its independence. The Indian National Congress (INC) which led the freedom movement, under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi had a cell devoted to foreign affairs. It was headed by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru with his vast exposure to international affairs. The INC thought of a cell because it wanted to project to the world that it’s views on issues of international affairs were at variance with that of the British who ruled over us. The INC felt it was necessary to articulate its views openly and clearly. The INC passed resolutions opposing the British annexation of upper Burma and the spread of it’s imperial hold over Egypt and other countries.

Nehru attended, in February 1927, the Congress of Oppressed Nationalities at Brussels and made a stirring speech opposing the imperialists and lent INC’s support to the cause of freedom from imperialism and Colonialism. During the second world war, the INC gave vent to it’s opposition to the war by upping the ante for Indian independence.

As Prime Minister of the provisional government, Nehru hosted the first Asian Relations conference in March-April1947. He reiterated India’s support to freedom for Asian nations saying ‘we stand at the end of an era on the threshold of a new period of history’. India’s independence which formally happened on 15th August 1947 led to Nehru making his historic speech about our tryst with destiny. From then on, India took up the cause of independence of Asian-African nations with greater vigour.

India also expressed itself strongly against the entangling alliances which emerged in the wake of the Cold War engulfing the Soviet-American relations. As is well known, the cold war led to the birth of an independent path to pursue our foreign policy, which came to be known as Nonalignment. India also played an active part in the Asian-African nations’ conference at Bandung (Indonesia) in 1955, signalling it’s renewed commitment to the cause of many Asian-African nations which were still fighting for freedom from imperial powers. The efforts of Asian-African nations for the pursuit of an independent foreign policy culminated in the first conference of the Nonaligned nations at Belgrade in Sepetember 1961, under the leadership of Marshall Tito, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sukarno and Nasser, leading to the eventual formation of the Nonaligned Movement (NAM), which was described by Peter Willets, as the emergence of a non-military alliance.

At the global level, India, under Nehru steadfastly took up the cause of Nuclear Disarmament and pleaded with the nuclear weapon states to give up the nuclear arms race. When the Partial Test Ban Treaty was signed in1963, Nehru welcomed it as a small, but significant first step towards nuclear disarmament and made India a signatory to it.

Under Indira Gandhi, India’s role in international affairs got a further boost and the same was evident in the manner in which she opposed the nuclear nonproliferation treaty (NPT). She opposed the NPT for it’s unequal and discriminatory character and refused to make India a signatory to it. As a realist in foreign affairs, keen on keeping the national security interests in mind, Mrs. Gandhi ordered the carrying out of the first ever peaceful nuclear explosion on 18th May 1974. To cut the story short ,Vajpayee, as Prime Minister, made India a nuclear weapon state in 1998. Dr. Man Mohan Singh signed the Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, popularity known as the Nuclear Deal, with the US in March 2006.
To briefly get back to the Mrs. Gandhi era, it needs noting that under her, India played a key role in getting the UN General Assembly to pass the Declaration of the Indian Ocean as a Zone of Peace, expressing our opposition to the policies of big powers to have military bases in the Ocean region. It is a different matter that the declaration has remained a dead letter in reality. It was a symbolic protest of imperialist policies, at best.

Under Mrs. Gandhi India also took up the issue of establishing a new international economic order, as a sequel to the gradual political independence of Asian-African nations. The year 1974 saw the UNGA passing the New International Economic Order (NIEO) resolution which called, in later years, for a North-South dialogue to translate the NIEO resolution into reality. Mrs. Gandhi also convened the NAM summit in New Delhi in March,1983. The foregoing narration is only to highlight that India played an extremely active and positive role under Nehru and Indira Gandhi in international affairs aimed largely at achieving systemic goals rather than focussing only on national self-interest oriented goals.

Though India continued to take up international causes with the dawn of the Liberation, Privitisation and Globalisation (LPG) era in world politics, in the opinion of this writer, the focus from the time of P.V. Narasimha Rao has been to integrate the country with the global North, be it in the economic or military-strategic field, rather than seek a transformation of the system, specially from the perspective of the developing South. There appears to be a dilemma in the minds of our contemporary political leaders as to whether India belongs to the developing South or has gradually integrated with the developed North. No wonder, many analysts (and some senior politician) feel that India has lost the leadership role of the South in it’s enthusiasm to integrate the country with the developed West. India’s neglect of NAM for many years lends credence to such thinking. For some years, NAM summits were ignored by the top political leadership However, some course correction seems to have taken place during this year. The same was evident in Prime Minister Modi’s virtual address to the NAM summit on 6th May. Calling Covid-19 the ‘most serious crisis humanity is facing, Modi called upon NAM to help promote global solidarity to address global health issues. It was gratifying to hear him referring to ‘NAM as the moral voice and that in order to retain its role, it (NAM) must remain inclusive’. Arguing that the Covid-19 has shown the limitations of the existing international system, Modi made a case for ‘a new template of globalisation based on fairness, equality and humanity’.

The above views of Prime Minister Modi, along with his address to the US-sponsored virtual summit of 40 global leaders on climate change in April this year, in which he called for concrete action ‘at a high speed, on a large scale and within global scope for an ambitious renewable energy target of 450 Gigawatts by 2030’. His appeal to the global community to take initiatives for International Solar Alliance and Disaster Resilient Inrastructure, provides a glimmer of hope for some fresh thinking on meeting the global climate related challenges. It is hoped that in the 75th year of it’s independence, India will discovers it’s earlier elan and vision for fighting for an inclusive international system based on justice and equity, which, as the late Prof. Hedley Bull, ( a well known India watcher of Australian origin) wrote, will help India ‘play an influential, though not a militarily powerful’, role in world affairs.

(Author: Dr. P. S . Jayaramu is former Professor of Political Science, Bangalore University and former Senior Fellow, ICSSR, New Delhi)

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