What has changed in India’s foreign policy is not just the effective use of culture as a soft power instrument but also bringing the indigenous approach based on Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam to world politics. Allowing every nation to prosper and progress as per own ethos is the ‘idea of Swaraj’ in International Relations
The trade war between America and China has heightened the tension. It may conflate into the geo-politics rivalries. The tectonic shift from West to East is a reality. America as a number one economic powerhouse is going to be replaced by China in a few years. Another emerging power from the East is India. These two countries from the East are called the civilisation states.
The meaning of it has a long history and tradition of governance. If we take the example of two thousand years, baring two hundred years i.e. 18th to 20th centuries, rest of the centuries were led by the Asian powers. One of the historical data explained that India’s contributions to the world economy in 1 A.D. was more than 35 per cent which had slumped to less than 3.5 per cent in 2019. But the historical truth has a strong ground to narrate the theory of gaining the lost ground. India has all the potentials to be the most important power. The power is displayed not merely in terms of Western perspective but in terms of accommodating all the countries across the globe through cooperation and brotherhood. From 18th to 21st centuries, the history of world politics is full of bloodshed and infighting. The concept of superpower started with military coercion and economic subjugation. Western imperial powers colonised Asia and Africa. Britain took the largest share. Britain was succeeded by America as a single most important power for almost a century. All theories of world politics are based on it to justify the journey of America as a just power. India including all third world countries used the same lenses to see the changing dynamics of world politics.
Kishore Mahubani, an expert of international politics from Singapore called the western dominance for two centuries as a historical aberration. It means the East has all the resources to be the driving power of world politics. Quincy Wright, a western philosopher, said categorically that Indian perspectives of world politics are much better and deeper to understand the dynamics of world politics. But theories of Kautilya and Manu remained confined into few pages of Indian political thought. China developed its own. Chinese strategic roadmap is guided by the baggage of philosophical underpinnings, mainly from Confucius, Dawaism and Mao. The Chinese trajectory of world politics is very complex. Therefore, western theories failed to weigh the Chinese Move.
For the last five years, India has altogether a different foreign policy. Shri Narendra Modi as Prime Minister has been trying to regain the lost ground and dignity of India in world politics. and He has succeeded to a large extent in his exercise. In coming days one can hope for better position of Bharat in the world politics
Indian perspective is very straight forward. The concept of Vishwa Guru is not about coercion, force or economic embargo. If we see the different doctrines of America it is all about harming others. Indian philosophy has displayed the concept of peace and prosperity. Indian influence in South East Asia is well known. But the Hindu Culture never tempered and changed the social order of the respective states. Indian influence spanned across the Middle East and Africa. The British colonial power had used the historical links of India in acquiring the land of the Middle East countries. In a conversation with Churchill during World War II, General Claude Auchinleck, stated: “India is vital to our existence. We could still hold India without the Middle East, but we cannot hold the Middle East without India.” India as the springboard for the security of the regions to its west and east had resulted in a British project, beginning in the eighteenth century, to create closer ties between the Persian Gulf and India.
The whole world is one. There is a need to share and rejoice. Your miseries are my pain. None of the western theories of world politics explained these components, be it realist or idealist or English school of thought or post-modernist. China as power is toeing the western lines. Its OBR has displayed the imperial approach of the West. In the name of connecting the world, it is creating naval military bases in the Indian Ocean. It is dividing the world for its own economic benefits.
Now the larger question is how India could term to be a great power which could stir it as a Vishwa Guru. Immediately after Independence, we lost many opportunities and willfully synchronised the role and image of India. Bharat Karnard asserts that India does not fulfil the requirements of global power status, at least at the present moment. Karnard maintains that to be a great power a country needs ‘a driving vision’, a sense of national destiny, defining of national interests, and willingness to use coercion and force in support of national interests, along with imaginative use of both hard and soft power.
India is a 5000-year-old civilisatio. Even its modern incarnation as a democratic state is only seventy-two years old. India occupies the largest area of the South Asian subcontinent. Surrounded by the Himalayan mountain ranges to the North and the Indian Ocean to the South, Indians believe geography has dictated that the subcontinent is one entity. Five thousand years of continuous civilisation nurtured in the vast space between the Himalayas to the North, the Indian Ocean in the South and the Hindu Kush and Arakan mountains in the West and East has bred a sense of Indian influence. Some South-East Asian empires were led by dynasties which practised Hinduism and Buddhism such as the Sri Vijya Empire in present-day Cambodia, Thailand and Indonesia (Java) during the seventh century. Indian influence did not change the contours of topography nor it distorted the social order of East Asia.
There are many India strategic thinkers of modern times who explained how independent India lost the opportunities to be a great power. India could have been a great power, had it retained and maintained the British India edge in the Far East and the Middle East. Indian strategic thinker Pannikar explained his view, “the old Indian empire as a common defence had much in its favour. It included Aden, as an outpost, kept the Persian Gulf and the Oman coast within the orbit of Indian policy, neutralised Tibet and held strongly to the eastern frontier of Burma.
In his 1943 book ‘The Future of South East Asia’, Pannikar had already argued that in history India had been the only power able to control South East Asia or what he called ‘Further India’. Pannikar saw India as the security provider as well as the key economic power for the region because of its geographical position, size, and resources. Another Indian strategic thinker Prof PN Kirpal, wrote in 1945, “Three great highways connect India with the rest of the world. One was from Calcutta towards the South and South-East; the sea routes reach Australia and New Zealand. The Indian government has been working on this route after 65 years of Independence. India has started a land route and sea route from the Bay of Bengal to South-East Asian countries. The Indo-Pacific sketch of India is moving to Japan, Korea and Australia. Another was the western route from Bombay and Karachi to the Middle East, Africa and Europe. The third one is from Delhi to the passes of the North – West as our railway system reaches the most ancient of the world’s highways of commerce and culture, the land route from India to Europe.
Another Himalayan blunder was leaving Tibet into the hands of China. Tibet, Bhutan and Nepal were the buffer zones between India and China. India’s area of interest stretched from the Gulf on the one hand to Indo-China on the other. The Indian Ocean area, together with Afghanistan, Sinkiang and Tibet as the outer northern ring constitute the real security of India. India’s neighbourhood is deemed to stretch from the Gulf and East Coast to Africa to South East Asia.
For the last five years, India has altogether a different foreign policy. Modi as Prime Minister is trying to regain the lost ground and dignity of India in world politics. He has succeeded to a large extent in his exercise. Since China has occupied the share of India in the Indian subcontinent and abroad, therefore, quick reversal is not possible in a few years. But the journey has begun. The whole of Himalayan regions to Indian Ocean states spanning through the Middle East to Africa was under Indian influence. RSS thinker Shri Indresh Kumar, who patronises an organisation, called Forum for Awareness of National Security (FANS) believes that establishing India as a great power is a doable proposal. There is a strong cultural link with India to these regions. There is language similarity. The value system is much closer to the Indian value system. It merely needs a strong will to do it. Fortunately, India has a nationalist government with a clear vision and thought. The influence of India does not breed and divide the countries on ethnic or communal lines, it leads them to realise integration and brotherhood.
Nevertheless, strategic thinking needs time to regain its lost ground. Indian culture and soft powers are already encompassing the world in its favour. Yoga is one which teaches that not merely the international organisations will restore peace, but changing the mindset of an individual through spiritual integration could make the world a better place to live in peace and let others live. This is the epitome of the Indian
perspective of world politics, which will be realised tomorrow or day after tomorrow.
(The writer is an Associate Prof. of Political Science at MMH