NEW DELHI: Purposeful, pragmatic and proactive. A shaper, not an abstainer. A stabilizer, rather than a disruptor. A security provider and a dispenser of global good. India’s foreign policy has found a new vocabulary and framework, as articulated by the country’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar at the Raisina Dialogue held in New Delhi earlier this month.
Words matter in foreign policy so this new lexicon of a rising India encapsulates the current form and trajectory of the country’s foreign policy in a world undergoing unprecedented transformation. Purposeful pursuit of national interests, pragmatic issue-based alignment with countries, big and small, and proactive diplomatic outreach have come to characterize and configure India’s foreign policy and diplomacy in the 21st century.
What is powering the diverse strands of India’s foreign policy is the overarching goal of transforming the lives of over 1.3 billion people in the country and spurring the country’s rise as a leading power in an increasingly multipolar world.
A new India is emerging in the second decade of the 21st century, one that is proactively shaping the international agenda on a wide array of cross-cutting issues, including climate change, sustainable development, counterterrorism, maritime security and the architectural reconfiguration of global governance.
This new India, with an economy of around $3 trillion and the surging aspirations of a vast population, is poised to reclaim its place on the global stage.
In a wide-ranging conversation on “The India Way” at the Raisina Dialogue, Jaishankar highlighted key features of a new foreign policy for a new India.
“The India way would be to be more of a decider or a shaper, rather than an abstainer,” he said, adding that India had made a difference in the last few years on issues like climate change and connectivity. More importantly he fleshed out the kind of power India would be in the next few years.
“It is not the India way to be a disruptionist power internationally, we should be a stabilizing power. It’s also not the India way to be self-centered and to be mercantilist. The India way would be a country which brings its capacities to bear on the international system for global good,” he said.
India, driven by the ethos of mutual empowerment, has shared funds, technology and expertise with countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe.
This development cooperation, channeled through lines of credit and grants, includes assistance in capacity building, training and enhanced cooperation in education and health.
India has committed around $29 billion in lines of credit for a host of development projects in 160 countries in the spirit of south-south solidarity.
As India’s global stature rises, the Indian government has also embarked on an unprecedented diplomatic outreach mission to mobilize global support for national resurgence.
Cutting across hemispheres, the last few years have seen a record number of high-level incoming and outgoing visits at the level of president, prime minister, vice president and ministers.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has traveled to over 70 countries in the last five-and-a-half years. In an evolving multipolar world, India has chosen the path of multi-alignment which entails forging issues-based alignment with like-minded countries and major power centers, without getting into “us versus them” zero-sum games.
What animates this outreach is the mantra of diplomacy for development which seeks to promote a national resurgence. With the Indian government setting an ambitious target of creating a $5 trillion economy, its foreign policy is being directed to harness the network of partnerships with all friendly countries to create a “New India” by 2022, the 75th anniversary of India’s independence, as promised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Development–focused diplomacy is seen in the interweaving of flagship schemes of national renewal — like “Make in India,” and “Stand-up India” — with the country’s diplomatic outreach. Forging robust and sustainable partnerships in technology, innovation and start-ups will be crucial to creating a New India and making India count on the global stage. Doubling the gross domestic product to a $5 trillion economy is not possible without a conducive international environment and supportive external partnerships.
Looking ahead, with its growing global stature and the rising expectations that the world has of a resurgent India, Modi has advocated reformed multilateralism to create a new world order that reflects the ongoing shift of power and realities of the 21st century. India has also taken the lead in combating climate change by fulfilling its commitments under the Paris accord and taking a series of initiatives for promoting a low-carbon economy.
In recognition of New Delhi’s leadership role in this area, more countries are joining the International Solar Alliance that seeks to usher in a white revolution for a clean and green world. India has launched a new international initiative called the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure, which is finding greater global support.
The 25-million strong Indian diaspora, spread across different countries and continents, will play an important role in building the New India. As Jaishankar put it: “The India way would be really Brand India. Brand India in terms of what is unique to us as a power,” he said while alluding to the diaspora, Indian culture and heritage. Modi has also articulated the essence of Brand India.
“All our endeavors are centered on 1.3 billion Indians,” Modi said in his speech at the UN General Assembly in New York last year.
“But the dreams that these efforts are trying to fulfil are the same dreams that the entire world has, that every country has, and that every society has.The efforts are ours, but their fruits are for all, for the entire world.”
Going forward, as it scripts its global ascent on its own terms, India will have to relentlessly assert its strategic autonomy as it navigates geopolitical rivalries to make independent decisions that benefit the country’s people.
This will entail dovetailing diplomacy with development and interweaving foreign policy with an unclouded vision of India as a leading power with a unique voice and narrative in a rapidly transforming world order.
• Manish Chand is Editor-in-Chief of India and the World magazine and India Writes Network, a portal focused on global affairs.