A year is coming to an end and we approach and embark a new year. It is time to reflect on the year gone by and to pontificate on the coming twelve months. The New Year should be a turning point in India’s relationship with the world including the unspoken and attributed ambition to India of becoming a world power. India will be holding the post of President of two blocs – the G-20 and the SCO. The former may define India’s innovative world leadership reflecting her diplomatic acumen and the intrinsic strengths. The following are the areas that need careful treading and building on.
The preeminent sector to focus on is the economy. That is currently the measure of the power of a country. Although India has surpassed Britain to become the fifth largest economy in the world, on many other parameters it is far from achieving its potential or meeting the expectations of the world. In particular, the investment that should have been diverted away from China has not come to India. New Delhi must ponder over the deficits that deflect such investments.
Also, India was perceived to be the ‘skill capital’ of the world, and perhaps an alternative manufacturing hub. On both these, the progress is far from satisfactory. In order to be a world power, India needs to buck-up in building its economyinasmuch as it is often compared to Chinese economy.
The second sector which is indubitably the core strength of India is its culture, both political and socio-civilisational. India is the biggest democracy by dint of its sheer size.But is it a vibrant and authentic one that the other developing countries may like to emulate. By the present perception, the answer is no. There are allegations of widespread violations of human rights, disruption of communal harmony and preponderance of a trend of intolerance. The leadership has to take these ominous trends on board and make course-correction if India should claim to become a world power.
The above reflection is based on the premise that a country’s foreign policy is a reflection of its domestic environment, which works as a determinant of the policy towards others. Therefore, the strategy adopted by many countries, consists of two inter-connected variables. One, pursuance of its national interest and second, playing to its own strengths. America’s foreign policy is based on its military and economic strength whereas China’s is purely driven by its newly-acquired economic prowess. New Delhi while building its military and economic power to match these two current big powers will have to use its social and cultural capital along with the emerging economic strength to promote its foreign policy.
In terms of concrete policies, New Delhi has to recalibrate its position on the biggest unfortunate development in February 2022. That is the ongoing war in Ukraine. India’s position which New Delhi has been painstakingly explaining consisted of both principles of territorial integrity and strategic autonomy. However, this did not seem to carry conviction as Russia has invaded Chechnya, Georgia, Moldova and now Ukraine by using a questionable doctrine called ‘sphere of influence’ and ‘interest zone’. New Delhi tilted towards Russia notwithstandingsome murmuring disapproval in keeping with her own national interest.To be sure, India has considerable national interest associated with Russia. That said, New Delhi should rethink its Ukrainian policy by delinking current Russian President Vladimir Putin from Russia.
National interest certainly is the guiding principle of any country’s foreign policy. But if the countries in the world completely skip international law, they endanger peace. This was the hypothesis successfully articulated by Immanuel Kant. There is now a window of opportunity for brokering peace between Ukraine and Russia. Both leaders are inclined to discuss a cease-fire or a peace deal for various respective reasons. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already offered his good offices to be an interlocutor. Modi should leave no stone unturned in making peace between these two countries at war.
The next strategic issue to tackle is China. I have repeatedly called out the South Block on its unsteady policy towards Beijing. The policy has been largely reactive not proactive. These often seem to be gulled by Chinese offer of peace and prosperity in partnership. But history shows that China is not known for keeping its word as it engages in deception diplomacy. South Block should take on China in a project mode with clearly defined VMGV – vision, mission, goals and values, and of course, a timeline and costs. In fact, one could suggest that India’s China policy will define her status as a future world power.
Dealing with Russia and China certainly brings the West into the equation. New Delhi should deepen its relations with United States of America structurally as well as functionally. At an appropriate time, sooner than later, New Delhi should think of a security treaty with United States which may work as a deterrent against any Chinese incursion or Pakistani meddling in Indian territory through sponsoring terrorism etc.
With the European Union countries and other Western powers, New Delhi must deepen its economic ties. It has been a long-neglected area. Since the beginning of European Union way back in 1957, India and Europe have missed the bus in deepening the partnership while both of them have amazing similarities in building and maintaining their respective unions. It is time, that gap is made up. Europe needs to defocus on their trade and commerce whereas India needs to focus on it.
As said before, G-20 offers a tremendous opportunity to New Delhi to showcase its leadership. In the run-up to the summit, there will be as many as 200 meetings covering a plethora of sectors. New Delhi has already articulated the slogan “One earth, one family, one future”, which is derived from India’s core cultural philosophy vasudhevakutumbakam.While that provides the emotional glue, practically New Delhi should bring the equitable development prominently onto the agenda of G-20. Here the concept of tri-sector partnership (state, business and civil society) in promoting development will be crucial.
The C-20 created by G-20 should be given prominence by highlighting India’s local wisdom and good practices in the development sector. To mention a few, the SHG movement (Self-Help Group), the producer-led supply chain (the milk cooperative experience in Anand, Gujarat), disaster preparedness and management and so on. There are many more successful, institutionalised community practices that could benefit underdeveloped and developing countries.
The most difficult suggestion to make is about how India should conduct its presidency of SCO where both Russia and China are members. If this group provides an opportunity for normalising relations by building a climate of confidence through inter-personal conversations, so be it. Though, it does not seem to be happening. New Delhi should strive innovatively to include in the SCO charter that the member countries should not use force or take unlawful unilateral action against each other. That should put some brake on both China and Pakistan. If such a spirit is not imbibed in either spirit or action, why run a façade of cooperation in a structural way! Let these be self-invited challenges on India’s foreign policy for 2023. —INFA