Evaluating the status of India as a resurgent nation

Y Mhonchumo Humtsoe *

A few decades ago, a debate arose on the emergence of India as a great power in terms of its economic growth and changing geopolitical status.

Although western suzerainty is no longer the norm it was an exception in the last two centuries of global history. From time immemorial the civilizations of China and India were always richer and more powerful than the west. The same global power status is now being repeated in the east with the decline of the post-WWII world order and the eastward shift of power and influence. This is colloquially referred to as the “Asian century”.

No sooner did the fall of the USSR and its subsequent disintegration, the world becomes a unipolar world order. However, with the change of time, the world is now witnessing a multipolar world order with new emerging global power such as China and India on their way. Thus, the focus of the world is on Asia. No doubt that the United States is a resident power however its influence is declining as China and India's power is emerging. It is because of this reason has brought all focus on India and its growing responsibility in the Asian region, particularly the Indo-Pacific at the global level.

India during the time of the cold war was limited to the South Asian region only. However, now its strategic pointers have extended much beyond South Asia to the larger Indian Ocean region. The Indian Ocean region is strategically important today. It is full of potential in carrying out major trade and commerce. It is vast that stretch from Africa to Australia. Thus, the Indian Ocean region posed full of security challenges. India's growing geopolitical weight, economic growth, rising military capability and maritime role with a huge market and favourable long-term demographic young population make it an important power. It is gradually becoming the leading naval power in the Indian Ocean region.

India is also perceived as a swing state in the emerging world order. Its oldest civilization, values and geographical location made it a perfect place where the east meets the west. It can swing the world order more peacefully by promoting and collaborating with international approaches. Swing states are countries that have a large and growing economy.

A swing state is central to a region or stands at the hinge point of multiple regions, embraces democracy, is active at the regional or global level and seeks to bring changes to international order where it doesn’t want to compromise. However, to be a global swing state of importance, India needs to efface off the constant tension of idealism in its foreign policy and start taking a realist approach in all its foreign policy dealings.

After independence, Nehru adopted an idealism-led foreign policy that focuses on morality rather than how things were. He believed in the moral forces of right and wrong and as a result of that, he committed many errors. Once the united states were going to offer a permanent seat to India at the United Nation Security Council (UNSC) which was going to get vacated by the Republic of China (Taiwan) but Nehru then felt it was an injustice to China and it must be given to China instead.

China on the other hand, instead of appreciating the magnanimity of India, even today uses its UNSC seat to favour Pakistan against India and try to block India's entry into the NSG. Nehru also gave territorial rights over Tibet inherited from the Britishers to China by signing a treaty with the Chinese. He also approaches the United Nations for a Kashmir issue when in reality there was no need because Kashmir Maharaja had already signed an unconditional instrument of accession with India. Therefore, the idealism shown by Nehru was in stark contrast to ancient India’s realist strategist thought. Kautilya’s Arthashastra for example, is one of the oldest books on realism in the world.

However, over time India's Non-Alignment Movement and Idealism started changing with the end of the cold war. Now India adopted a policy of strategic autonomy where it maintained an independent foreign policy and starts focusing on mutually beneficial strategic partnerships with other developed countries. After the 1990s Indian foreign policy has become more realistic and it is coinciding with India's economic growth. A realist foreign policy stresses the chasing of self-interest which India is following at a great pace. The most important development in India's foreign policy is its growing strategic partnership with the US-Nuclear Deal, QUAD, INDO-PACIFIC, LEMOA, BECA, and COMCASA et al.

India has many positive advantages on its side to make it a developed nation in the world. A long history of being one of the richest countries at one point in time before colonial domination and playing a mainstream and cooperative role with the rest of the world suggests India hoped of regaining its lost glory to that of global power status. India was the most prosperous and stable nation when it was connected with the rest of the world through trade and commerce.

India's unity in diversity is one of its strongholds. Culturally, religion-wise India is more diverse than the entire European Union. Its foreign policy carries regional and extra-regional implications. India's thriving democracy and the rule of law have made it a much more robust nation. India has great power ambitions and potential and it can pursue it with a forward-thinking and dynamic foreign policy. Unlike the past few decades ago the Indian foreign policy is now increasingly becoming multi-alignment from that of non-alignment.

This was conspicuously noticed even before Modi came to power as Prime Minster but it is noticing even more. One of the best examples of India's multi-alignment policy is its cooperation with Russia, the US, and China, all great global influencers that are antagonists to each other. India also has close relationships with foreign countries that do not have diplomatic relations with each other such as Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Soon after coming to power, Prime Minister Modi actively sought to depart from the Non-Alignment Movement (NAM). He didn’t even attend the last two NAM annual summits. He has driven foreign policy away from NAM to a contemporary globalised multi-alignment strategy. After the end of the cold war, the world witnessed the most profound technological, economic and geopolitical changes but between 1990-2000s, India's foreign policy remained stuck with a decrease in India's regional and extra-regional clout.

The gap between China and India in terms of the economy and stature has also grown wide difference. However, Modi after coming to power has changed the situation dramatically as he has given a new direction to India's foreign policy. While on the other hand, the skirmishes between India and Pakistan from time to time and China’s interference in India’s backyard haven’t stopped. Instead, the China-Pakistan nexus has become stronger than ever before. However, the Modi government is so determined on balancing them to promote India's interests.

Modi’s foreign policy is marked by an example of practicality with zeal and showmanship as he pays a visit to many foreign countries. He has invested a considerable amount of political capital and time in high-powered diplomacy. He has personally visited many foreign countries. He has also personally participated in many multilateral summits. Modi has shown a non-doctrine but practical approach to foreign policy. He has adopted some of his domestic ideas to foreign policy such as “Make in India” and “Digital India”. This reflects his priority is to revitalize India economically and increase its strategic boundaries.

With the changing current scenario at the international level, a multi-aligned foreign policy suits India more than a non-alignment foreign policy. A non-aligned foreign policy is passive and it includes staying on the sidelines. Whereas multi-aligned means taking a proactive approach and being on the centre stage. India is however maintaining its strategic autonomy despite being multi-aligned. It becomes a part of QUAD but refused to join the US-led sanctions against Russia recently.

Modi government has sought to counter China’s strategic encirclement of India through a “String of Pearls” by building strategic partnerships with countries around China’s periphery as an “Act East” endeavour. Modi criticized China’s military build-up and encroachment in the South China Sea as an 18th-century expansionist mindset.

India has upgraded its “Look East” policy from its original economic logic to the geopolitical logic of “Act East”. India with blessings from the US is re-establishing historically close ties with India's East to build a stable balance of power in the Indo-Pacific. India's relationship with Europe is also a central component of its multi-aligned policy. A strong European Union (EU) is required for international peace and security and stable power equilibrium. India is a natural friend of the European countries. In the entire EU, India has the closest relations with Germany. They have converging interests with both supporting each other’s bid for UNSC.

Despite the international presence and a growing India-US relationship, India has kept its relationship with Russia intact. Russia also recognized India as a time-tested partner. Russia has always been there for India since the cold war days and even today in countering an expansionist, China. Neighbourhood however remains a major area of concern as China’s interference by making military bases in the neighbourhood may make China more threatening to India’s security.

In sum, the incumbent Modi government also needs to ensure that foreign policy is institutionalized more so that ad-hoc and personality-driven foreign policy could be eschewed at all costs. India has verily become more realistic however it is still cautious and reactive and not forward-looking and proactive. India is choosing to remain multi-aligned however it is more towards the US and other democratic countries in Europe and Asia. So, to regain the great emerging global power status of strength, India must first build its strength at home to project itself as a great power to the world.

* Y Mhonchumo Humtsoe wrote this article for
The writer is doing Post Graduate Program.(International Relations) at North East Christian University; Dimapur: Nagaland.
and can be contacted at ymhonchumo(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on 10 July 2023.

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