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Composure in a World of Extremities: India’s Diplomatic Tight-rope

world of extremities

Time and again, India has championed for the cause of diplomatic and strategic non-alignment. Over the years, this unwavering stance is now increasingly being seen as the ‘India Way’ in foreign policy. With some of our previous articles, we tried to understand what it means when India reiterates its request for a ‘reformed’ world order, we now understand its implications with regard to more pressing concerns

When it comes to foreign policy, New Delhi has maintained a significant distance from forging alliances, despite a few exceptions in the past. An approach which was first adopted after the conclusion of the second world war. It is however, important to note that the existing norms and practices with international relations are more often than not, dramatically altered following cataclysmic events. The two world wars, 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami are just some examples, and the most recent one being the COVID-19 pandemic. As international relations underwent yet another transitional period, the world is coming to terms with a new order – one that is only just emerging.

Simplicity never goes out of style

India’s approach has been fairly simple, it favours open-ended strategic partnerships with like-minded nations rather than long-standing (and often constricting) formal alliances. Another aspect of this approach is the pursuit of a larger, more encompassing goal — that of global, national and holistic development – as short-term goals are achieved regularly in the process. Amidst reports of India’s approach being outdated, the COVID-19 pandemic made the world appreciate and understand this dynamic, almost 70 years after India adopted it. Only when a larger goal of overcoming the disease and its economic repercussions became visible, was the world able to forge more issue-based partnerships with a multilateral outlook.

Balance is the key

New Delhi has always maintained its commitment to emerging as a more reliable, stable and balanced partner, both regionally and in its intercontinental ties. In the same regard, even with ongoing tensions with China, the country has not let slip any chance to engage in a responsible and strategic dialogue for conflict resolution, even at international forums. Be it the virtual BRICS meeting of Foreign Ministers on September 4, the engagement of Defence Ministers of the two nations on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meeting in Moscow on September 05 or the meeting between the External Affairs Minister of India and the Foreign Minister of China on the sidelines of the SCO meet in the Russian capital on September 10, New Delhi has repeatedly tried to engage Beijing in a mutually-agreeable resolution to further the goal of friendly relations across the SE Asian region. Infact, the five-point plan agreed upon by India’s Minster for External Affairs Dr S Jaishankar and Wang Yi, State Councillor and Foreign Minister of China on September 10 has been one of the positive outcomes pertaining to the situation on the border.

As China has expressed its displeasure with regard to other international forums (of which India is also a part) and the rising acceptance of the Indo-Pacific model over Beijing’s idea of the South China Sea, it would be interesting to see the developments leading to the virtual BRICS summit scheduled to be held on November 17. The summit is the highest level of engagement between the five-member, intercontinental grouping, and will see Prime Minister Narendra Modi engage with Chinese President Xi Jinping for the first time since tensions erupted along the international border in May.

The mathematics of four

What was birthed consequentially as a joint-response to the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami in 2004 by India, Australia, Japan and USA, and informally called the ‘Quadrilateral Initiative’ (2007), has emerged as a strong grouping of like-minded nations over the years. It is the same grouping that has received much of the aforementioned condescension by China over the years. Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s speech at the Indian parliament had formalised the idea of an Indo-Pacific, which he later endorsed with the quad by calling it “Asia’s democratic security diamond”. Since then, Prime Minister Modi has repeatedly called for a more inclusive Indo-Pacific – an area that is open and free, and that which provides a transparent network for all stakeholders. As the idea has gained momentum, even with multinational forums like ASEAN, fingers have been raised at India for what is being perceived as a formation of an alliance and a departure from its age-old diplomatic approach. It is however, clear from EAM Jaishankar’s recent remarks at the second “Australia-India-Japan-United States Consultations on regional and global issues of common interest,” in Tokyo, Japan, that India maintains a non-aligned approach. Even as New Delhi has been urged to divert its attention towards the Quad consortium, and Washington calling for a collaborated ‘Quad’ effort to counter China as per recent reports, a composed and responsible approach has been the Indian policy of choice.

The New India

Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership, the reformed foreign policy is one that projects accountability, reliability and inclusion. The repeated mentions of the ancient Indian concept of ‘Vasudhaiva kutumbakam’  or ‘the world as one family’ has been a testament to his government’s commitment to building a more understanding and positive global community. It is natural for nations to observe in India, a more steady partner, given its current stance. However, it is equally important for those who do not, to understand that India’s foremost commitment lies with a positive approach towards global and regional development, and not in establishing its supremacy.

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