Intro: First time India’s foreign policy is not following the old rhetoric of non-alignment and is moving towards alignment with all. It is because of this approach with its neighbours, India has, no problems whatsoever, in engaging with major powers.
Since, 1990s India and China are perceived as rising powers on the global scene. China has been showing its diplomatic acumen, military might and economic clout to project power. But somehow, India was apprehensive in projecting such power calculus at the regional and global level. With the change of guard, diplomatic cards exercised by the Modi government are distinctive in this regard. For instance, in an unprecedented way Modi raised the issue of intrusion in Chumar area of Northeast Ladakh by Chinese PLA and China responded positively in few hours.
The stand-off in Demchok and Chumar areas is not new. There have been hundreds of intrusions by Chinese tribals in Indian territories with the support of PLA. Just few days before the official visit of Chinese President, PLA troops numbering around 600 entered the area. Till now India was raising its concerns through media but avoided any aggressive postures that would displease China. But after Modi raising concerns regarding frequent intrusions, by late evening official sources confirmed retreating of the Chinese troops from the region. What transpired this move? Was it just bonhomie between Modi and Jinping that paved the way out? Or is it that India has finally learnt to behave like a rising power.
Any rising or emerging power has to have potential for consistent economic development and mechanisms to sustain it. That’s what India and China represent, along with demographic advantage. But these factors were prevalent for India even in the pre-Modi era; still India could not unleash the potential. Of course, decisive mandate for a strong leader has changed the dynamics. But more importantly, the new dispensation is ready to use content and contours of a powerful nation.
First time India’s foreign policy is not following the old rhetoric of non-alignment and is moving towards alignment with all. It is allowing simultaneous engagement with small neighbours and major powers on principles of equality and mutual respect.
India’s relations with China were always defined by the age-old foreign policy impasse, Pak-centricism. But this time, the bilateral visits of the PM or the External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj were not driven by this fixation. I believe this is what is allowing India to freely engage with Afghanistan and there are talks of India being the ‘first strategic partner’ of Afghanistan. Perhaps, it is because of this Modi is able to boldly mention the ‘expansionist mindset’ of some countries (namely China) while in Japan; of engaging with Vietnam, a known adversary of China, on oil and defence issues just before Jinping’s visit- and all this is certainly not coincidental.
Delhi centricism or capital centric understanding of issues was another feature of India’s foreign policy. Modi’s approach- from linking Kyoto to Varanasi and taking Chinese President to Sabarmati river front has completely changed the approach. Buddhism and ancient cultural linkages are frequently being referred along with technological cooperation and economic engagements. The sources of India's negotiation behaviour are deep-rooted and culture-specific, going beyond the standard western paradigms of interest group politics, partisan politics, or institutional politics. This is being used effectively now.
Since the Pokhran II, India has been trying to come out of the idealist overtones in foreign policy. It is widely accepted in this government that competition and conflict is inevitable in international politics and that should not hinder the avenues of cooperation. With realist connotations in diplomatic endeavours, India is ready to get into hard bargain tactics as it used during the BRICS summit.
While appreciating positive change in India’s foreign policy posture, a caution on domestic factors like equitable economic development and stability is necessary. Similarly, unpredictable behavior and autonomy enjoyed by hardliner PLA in China cannot be neglected by rising India.