“Our aim will be to secure for India a meaningful role in world affairs. India does not believe that unipolarity is a state of equilibrium in today's world. At the same time, we do not advocate a form of multipolarity that creates tension between the poles. We believe a stable equilibrium lies in a cooperative, multipolar world which accommodates the legitimate aspirations and interests of all its component poles and of the international community as a whole. This is the world which India is committed to working for.”
– Bharat Ratna Atal Behari Vajpayee at the India Today Conclave on March 29, 2004 The year that was started with the US President Barack Obama visiting Bharat as Chief Guest for the Republic Day function, is ending with the Prime Minister Narendra Modi visiting Afghanistan via Russia. On global stage, year 2015 has been a tumultuous one in many senses which can be interpreted in different ways. But one thing that no one can deny is that Bharat has learnt to assert its position and no major global decision can be arrived at unless Bharat is on board.
It is not a sudden development with Modi-led NDA government coming to power. As former Prime Minister Vajpayee said at India Today Conclave in 2004, “Every Indian, whether living in India or abroad, has always believed that India is a great nation and has wondered why the world has not acknowledged this obvious truth. Perhaps we have tended to judge ourselves by our potential, whereas others judge us by our performance.” The process started with the nuclear tests of 1998 itself, no major power could assess the move and Bharat successfully sustained its economic upsurge despite sanctions from major powers. The UPA government due to constraints and priorities could not sustain that momentum on many fronts. Now the gap between our potential and our performance is getting bridged through a stable, decisive government with clear vision for foreign policy and strategic choices.
Though Rajiv Gandhi government paved the breakthrough in Bharat-China relations in 1980s, Bharat was always cautious in dealing with China. Departing from the 1962 mindset, Bharat effectively carved out the Act East policy despite Chinese reservations engaged with all countries including Japan, Vietnam and Mangolia. China desperately wants Bharat to be part of the pet project of the Eastern neighbour One Belt to make it a success. Chinese maritime ambitions countered with effective engagement in Indian Ocean and Indo-Pacific. This assertion of Bharat has compelled China to recognise Bharat as an inevitable player in Afghan peace process, despite Pakistani qualms.
Clinching of deals with almost all members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) is no less than a wonder. Non-NPT signing nation like Bharat has ensured consistent supply for generating nuclear energy which is critical for energy self sufficiency. It has demonstrated a trait that if you are a responsible nuclear power, then nuclear apartheid can be broken.
Whether it is climate change negotiations at Paris or trade negotiations at Nairobi, Bharat succinctly articulated and asserted its position and led the concerns of the developing world. The nation which was considered as a deal blocker in the initial phase was credited with the deal maker by all major powers. Most significantly, Bharat did that without compromising on either development path it aspires for or agricultural interests it seeks to protect.
Foreign policy of Bharat was always aspired to be independent but it was always constrained by domestic factors, economic and energy needs and military dependence. The imaginative and strong leadership of Modi has shown that those very constraints can be addressed through assertive global role. Signing simultaneous defence deals with the US and Russia underscores Bharat’s willingness to be part of the great power game with autonomous and self-reliant approach.
In the coming year, the real testing of this assertive position will be on the immediate Western front, not limiting to Pakistan but to the entire Islamic world. How far Bharat bilaterally engage with Pakistan while pushing it further on covert and overt support to cross border terrorism, whether Bharat takes up more active role in Afghan peace process and while securing energy needs how far Bharat is willing to address the West Asian crisis are the critical questions which Bharat cannot escape.