During the past few days, you would have seen several comments from Western ‘academics’ and India born western ‘intellectuals’ about supporting the ‘free world’ in Ukraine’s conquest to defend democracy on behalf of the world. On the other hand, you would also have seen a thousand articles, memes and news bites on how Russia has supported India in the past and hence India must stick by it and return the favour.
Then there’s yet another section of people (albeit much smaller than the two above) which professes India’s non-alignment which means India should not get into such international affairs at all.
One of the many articles
India’s actual foreign policy however is a bit more complex, but well thought out.
S Jaishankar (currently India’s External Affairs Minister) wrote a book called ‘The India Way’ which came out in 2020. The book is arguably the best articulation of India’s foreign policy for the 21st century.
The central theme in his book is ‘convergence’. Jaishankar argues that in an ever changing, uncertain world, you can not rely on either a strategy of alliances or of non alignment. What India does instead, is create benefit/ issue based convergences with multiple countries and groups of nations. The QUAD is a great example of convergence. India, US, Japan and Australia have come together in the QUAD setting to maximise gains in areas like vaccines, technology, supply chain and security.
The International Solar Alliance where India leads 101 countries is another example.
If you think about it, ‘convergence’ is a far more pragmatic and mathematical solution (an optimizer if you will) compared to the extreme models of allyship (total convergence on all issues) or non alignment (no convergence no divergence).
Does this mean India has no global leadership ambitions?
It is often also said that if India doesn’t support US’s stand, it would result in India somehow not being taken seriously for a global leadership role.
However, that is a flawed argument which plays to the Indian inferiority complex accustomed for white skin validation. The fact is that India does have global ambitions. However, it doesn’t seek to reach there in the conventional way where there are only 1 or 2 major global players. India aspires to be an independent pole in a multipolar world. Also, if India wants to reach a pole position, it is natural it can’t do it just based on favors of other countries. US would support India only to the point where it doesn’t become a competition like China has today – a fact well established by US policy statements where they refer to India as an emerging regional power, not global.
It is no hidden fact, that India is one of the top 5 economies by GDP (Nominal) basis. With time, India will be within Top 2. Regardless of whether the Indian population’s per capita income increases, the overall macro standing itself would be enough to push India’s political clout to a pole position.
Hence, India has been confidently implementing its approach of becoming a pole by maximizing its convergences without conciously making a friend or foe.