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Emerging dimensions of India’s foreign policy in the context of global politics

By IMPRI Team 

The three-day course took place recently, providing participants with an understanding of the development of Indian foreign policy, the complexity of geopolitics, and its flexibility to adjust to and even shape global outcomes. Many distinguished academics, senior scholars, former Indian diplomats, and journalists who are skilled observers and commentators of India’s foreign policy will serve as instructors for this course.

Day 1

The three-day immersive online certificate training on “Emerging Dimensions of India’s Foreign Policy and Global Politics”, an initiative by the Center for International Relations and Strategic Studies (CIRSS) at IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), began on July 14th, 2022 at 5:00 PM (IST) on Zoom platform. Dr Souravie Ghimiray served as the emcee throughout the 3 days of the event and welcomed the distinguished speakers of Day 1.
The esteemed panel on Day 1 consisted of, Dr Soumita Basu, Associate Professor, Department of International Relations, South Asian University; Nandita Baruah, Country Representative-India, The Asia Foundation; Prof Sanjay Chaturvedi, Professor & Chairperson (IR), Department of International Relations, South Asian University, and Prof Shibashis Chatterjee, Professor, Department of International Relations, Jadavpur University.
Dr Soumita Basu briefed the participants on ‘Transformative Foreign Policy’. She elaborated on her case study which was centred on India’s multilateral engagement at the UNSC. She elaborates on the ideas of foreign policy while also citing the quotes of scholars like Christopher Hill in her discussion. She quotes Alexander Wang who gave importance to social identity and recognition by other states as being integral to foreign policy. She mentions the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine as well which allows the international community to step in when the states oppress their own citizens. Thus, she explains that transformative foreign policy is the idea which says that foreign policy can transform the international order in a positive manner.
Her explanation of multilateralism being the idea that all states weak and strong would have to adhere to the same set of rules, presented a fresh perspective on the same. She also pointed out the hierarchy that exists and the selective implementation of rules for different countries. The difficulty in changing the world order and doing something different than what is the norm is a challenging task according to Dr Basu. She highlighted the bad reputation the Security Council has gotten in India for the right reasons. She talked about why special treatment is given to the countries holding a permanent seat in the Security Council which encourages these countries to take ownership of it. The primary reason why the League of Nations failed was due to the lack of initiative and interest taken by the great powers.
While accepting the fact that it is nearly impossible to formally change the UNSC she did speak on the changes and evolution in the working of the UNSC over the course of the years, be it the introduction of Arria-Formula meetings or the concept of the sofa talks that Indonesia brought in. She later deliberated upon the campaign statement of India which gives significance to issues like terrorism and peacekeeping, reform multilateralism and the newer issues like technology among other things. She analyzed India’s statement as not something calling for a radical change but being a rule shaper, thus improving its own position in the process.
Miss Nandita Baruah, spoke on her topic ‘Feminist Foreign Policy’ in the second session of day one. She commenced her talk by pointing out the relevance of this topic in the western world rather than the Global South. She rejects the binary interpretation of the term and explains that the term when it was created was aimed to look out for a more inclusive intersection of ideology. Feminist foreign policy tries to break the notion of foreign policy and diplomacy being aloof to common people and says that no matter whatever issue one is talking about at the international level, it does impact each person. She elaborated the concept of looking at these issues from an inclusive lens and looking from the perspective of women and marginalized communities and the effects that decisions taken at an international level will have on them.
She spoke at great length on the two pillars upon which this policy rests: namely the increase in representation at the decision-making table and the perspective of those who are already on the table to be able to think how a particular policy would play out. She asks pertinent questions to the ones framing and deciding the policy on whether the consideration of gender, equity and marginalization is put in when one is talking about trade deals, climate change and peace & security. Countries like Sweden, Canada and Luxembourg have adopted these approaches in their foreign policy making and implementation. Germany and Argentina went with the gender foreign policy, however, with the same messaging.
She also drew the participants’ attention to the existing dichotomies that play out when the foreign policy is gender inclusive but the internal policies do not align with that. She highlighted how India’s medicinal and vaccine support to other countries in the region lacked the rider of ‘distributing it equitably among women’ which is usually present in the assistance provided by the West. She reaffirms the fact that it becomes imperative for India to articulate these values and notions explicitly as it knows the same systems of patriarchy exist in other countries as well. She also cites the example of the Nepal Earthquake of 2015 which lacked a framework for equitable distribution of the assistance given by a lot of countries including India. It is thus important for India to make changes at home to be able to push for it and speak for the same in the international arena, with moral authority.
Prof Sanjay Chaturvedi began his talk on the topic ‘India in Indo-Pacific Geopolitics: Drivers, Dynamics and Dilemmas’ by briefing the participants on the role of Shinzo Abe in the Indo-Pacific region and quoted his famous speech of the ‘Confluence of the Two Seas’ that he spoke in the Indian Parliament. Explaining the concept of geopolitics as a product of its times with its definitions being evolved accordingly, Prof. Chaturvedi quoted Cohen. He views Indo-pacific as more of an acknowledgement of the rise of the region, as an emerging power base. He thus highlighted India’s position in the same, being centrally located in the region, simultaneously looking in all directions. He elaborated on the concept of strategic geography and how the location can hold importance in the matters of human, political, economic and military aspects of a region.
He points to the emergence and need for looking at newer geopolitical structures after the cold war and Indo-pacific regions provide that grand narrative. He talks about strategic narratives which are representations of a sequence of events and identities and a tool through which meaning is given to past and present in order to achieve some political objectives. The Indo-Pacific region spans two oceans linked through shipping and strategy. China’s emergence of expanding its economic and military capabilities has given an impetus and renewed significance to the region.
He also highlighted the nation’s outlook towards the Western zone of the Indo-Pacific region, extending relations and connectivity with the Gulf States and the countries of Africa. There are various claimants in the region and he explains the same with their different ideas of the region. Australia has a different notion of the region than the USA. Australia, while realizing the fault line in the order is the South China Sea conflict, declares itself as not taking a side. He also talks in brief about the ASEAN Outlook which has contributed to forming an integrated territorial space built on dialogue and not rivalry. India has actively participated in the Shangri La Dialogue and even launched the Indo-Pacific Ocean Initiative which has bolstered its role in this geopolitical space.
Prof Shibashis Chatterjee centred his discussion on the topic ‘The Present International Order and Indian Foreign Policy: Some Reflections’. He began his lecture on the crisis in the international order and how that creates challenges for Indian foreign policy to respond to and tackle these crises. He explained the dichotomy or trouble spots in the discipline of international relations which is the structural reading of the topic and a more unit-based analysis of the foreign policy. He defines the structural approach as something in which all the states are equal in providing power and security. According to this approach, they work in a structured format which has nothing much to say in it. In the second approach, which is highly unit-specific and agential, one can get into the specifics of nation-states which the previous approach doesn’t allow them to. He then goes on to explain the power and dominant dynamics that play out in the domestic and international arena.
He talks about the major shift in the distribution of powers in the international order in contemporary times. He shares three basic primary values that underguard the basic primary liberal international order. These are territorial sovereignty, modernity based on science and technology, and finally, the bedrock of the liberal international order is the market-based liberal economic system. So, it is wrong on our assumption to say that the influence of the USA is diminishing as the very essence of this order depends upon these value systems and according to Professor Chatterjee, the USA has contributed to the same and not created it. He delineates the challenges that the international order faced at the time of its victory in the post-Cold war era. One is the burden put on the order with new entrants, elements and questions posed on the same. The second was the balance between neoliberalism and welfare which was lost. He finally ends by drawing attention to the negative nation crisis, explaining the shortcomings of the liberal economic order; and the horizontal tangential crisis, for its inability to be inclusive enough.

Day 2

The esteemed panel on Day 2 consisted of Ambassador Shashank (IFS, Retd.), Former Foreign Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs, India; Robinder N. Sachdev, Founder President, The Imagindia Institute; Don McLain Gill, Geopolitical Analyst and Author, The Philippines and Prof Srikanth Kondapalli, Dean, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).
Ambassador Shashank’s lecture provided the participants with an opportunity to have a ‘Live Interaction with an Indian Diplomat’. He started off his talk by delving into the changing nature of Indian foreign policy, especially in the last 20 years. He thus informs the participants to acknowledge the changing conditions in the global arena in the previous century such as the Cold War and globalization which brought in a number of international forums like WTO and IMF among others. He also draws our attention to India’s increased focus on the ASEAN countries for mutual economic interests. He also cites the example of the recent 20th Anniversary dialogue with the ASEAN countries. He also mentioned the RCEP which has been started in East Asia to bolster the supply-chain relationship.

He then moves on to the various strategic relations which include the Kashmir issue and the dynamic change in the bilateral relations with Pakistan with the involvement of the Islamic State along with the Quad partnership that was initiated by Japan and Australia. He also includes the changing nature of the policy during the Covid-era when India became a supplier of vaccines with its vaccine diplomacy that was in full swing. Moreover, the Russia-Ukraine conflict has seen India’s passive position in it due to strategic reasons. He later talked about strategic autonomy and how India should not let this principle be any hindrance in engaging with the world but at the same time not let others impose their policy on us too. He finally took a lot of questions from the participants and shared his opinions on India-Myanmar relations in the present scenario, the Russia-Ukraine war, BIMSTEC, the future of AUKUS and even India’s potential permanent seat at UNSC.
Robin Sachdev centred his discussion primarily on the topic ‘A New Meta-narrative of India’s Foreign Policy in the 21st Century’. He commences by rejecting the idea of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ by arguing that it provides no roadmap and gives no direction. Moreover, it just leaves one with this philosophy but does not give the next chain of actionable thoughts. He then introduces the idea that he believes in, which is called Optopolitics. Explaining the term, he defines it as the optics of geopolitics or the examining of geopolitics through the lens of national images. He then goes on to elaborate upon the ostensible ‘rebooting of the world’ or the ‘Kalyug 2.0’ in this post-Covid era. He explains this by mentioning examples of climate change, covid-19 and others like the USA vs China struggle. He thus suggests the outlining of India’s policy on the principle of ‘Live and Let live’ which is centred around the thought that India should live safely and happily and we let others also live the same way.
However, it is incumbent upon others to do so as well. If this is not adhered to, then India too can do the needful to ensure that it ‘lives happily and safely. He calls upon people to adhere to this on an individual level and even in environment-mankind relationships. He proposes an idea named ‘Gardens of Peace’ along the LAC under which certain conflicted zones would be defined as no man’s land and thus be declared military-free. He thus advocates bringing more ‘hope’ in policy-making and implementation as it is crucial in the times that we are living in. He thus concludes his lecture by giving the participants certain examples of Public diplomacy led by Indian diasporas in the USA, Middle East and European nations. He also discusses the case study of North Korea-South Korea Peace diplomacy and the Global Festival of Calm and Joy 2023, Gangwon. He later engaged in a fruitful Question and Answer session with the participants and the discussion was based on the role of the UN, civil society and the balance between development and ecology.
Don Gill talked extensively on the topic ‘India as an Emerging Pole in a Multipolar World’ and he began his lecture by highlighting the importance of power in the field of international relations. He also looks upon the power shifts in the current system and explains how there is a constant struggle to revise the established order and challenge the ‘established’ powers. He talks about ‘offensive realism’ and ‘blackboxes’ in terms of how the nations seek to alter the international order.
Countries look more for regional dominance now instead of global dominance due to maritime concerns. He also explains ‘order’ and defines two categories namely the ‘bounded’ and ‘international’ order. He also posits significance in the smaller and emerging nations in defining the system and changing the overall equation. He asserts the fact that India’s rise poses a challenge to the USA-Russia and USA-China dynamics. He also talks about military and latent power, the latter more focused on socio-economic prowess. India has expanded its reach in the East as China overlooks the Southwest Asia region. India’s role becomes all the more prominent in the emerging scenario wherein other nation-states are ambivalent about getting into the USA-China struggle. Thus, India provides a middle way in this situation when there are apprehensions of siding with the West too. He answered the questions from participants which were on various topics like NATO, the India-China power struggle and the civilizational clash between these two countries.
Prof Srikanth Kondapalli limited his talk to the topic ‘China’s Role in the Indian Neighborhood’. He commenced by detailing the various ways in which China is influencing India’s neighbourhood, the impact of the Chinese foreign ministry, and finally the People’s Liberation Army in China. He mentions how China is adamant about achieving its minimalist foreign policy goals and officials like Da Vinco, State Councillor who had mentioned China’s goals regarding Tibet, Taiwan and Xinjiang province. He terms these interests as rooted in separatism, extremism and spilitism. He adds on to how India plays a strategic role as it is the only country to house Taipei’s Economic and Cultural Center in the neighbourhood. India’s core interests do lie in Hong Kong and the South China Sea conflict mainly because of the huge diaspora in the former case and the huge supply chain and trade routes in the latter.
China has been looking to fill up the vacuum in Asia by warning the USA to exit the region so it can provide for the security needs of the nation-states. It was way back in 2017 that the Chinese premier declared that China is moving towards leadership and hegemonic roles in the regional and international order. China has also asserted shared partnership for a shared destiny which implies taking along its allies like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka. He also mentioned the Belt and Road Initiative and how China is also looking at increasing its physical connectivity. He finally sheds light upon various initiatives taken by China like CPEC, Corridor with Bangladesh and Myanmar, engulfing the Indian Ocean’s string of pearls, i.e., the taking away of ports by China and even the proposed extended railway line to Nepal. He concludes by stating the military threat to India by China in the light of recent Galwan clashes and even the financing of Mujahideens.

Day 3

The distinguished panel on Day 3 consisted of Tridivesh Singh Maini, Visiting Professor, OP Jindal Global University; Dr Parama Sinhapalit, Adjunct Senior Fellow, Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore; Prof Sumit Ganguly, Distinguished Professor of Political Science, Indiana University, USA.
Tridivesh Singh Maini centred his talk on ‘Role of Non-Governmental Players in Foreign Policy’ and commenced by giving greater importance to the theories of International relations like realism wherein the focus is more on the state and not much significance is given to non-state actors. The constructivist theory does acknowledge the role of non-state actors but to a limited extent. The liberal theory does give prominence to financial institutions and multinational corporations. He also looked at this topic at hand through the evolving lens of technology and how with the advent of social media, the challenge to globalization by elites is real. He also put emphasis on the Post-Covid era due to which the nature of participation also underwent a series of changes.
In India, the dominant non-state actors are the business groups and houses. This can be seen through the proactive role of business in foreign policy right from the economic reforms of 1991. He also mentioned Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), especially in Latin America and the African regions. Thus, he gives importance to the role of the Indian Chambers of commerce for headlining the track two dialogues and the involvement of the private sector which has given an impetus to its foreign investments. He also talks in detail about the Indian diaspora in the Gulf which is a source of huge amounts of remittances and the diaspora in the USA which was instrumental in the 90s during the IT boom and continues to play a crucial role. The changing scenarios and greater acceptance of the Indian diaspora can be seen in the relaxation of visa policies and granting of long-term visas to Indians in UAE and Indians rising at the forefront in political and economic spheres in Australia, Canada and USA.
He also mentions the role of think tanks in the same way as they look at essential issues, the ideology that they espouse and also the partnerships and the level of researchers they possess. Many Indian think tanks have modelled themselves on their Western counterparts and there is greater engagement due to the summits and forums wherein the policymakers interact and collaborate. He concluded by having an impactful discussion with participants on areas such as the emerging role of think tanks, the role of NGOs and the effect on trade relations influenced by the Indian diaspora.
Dr Parama Sinhapalit deliberated on the topic ‘India’s Digital Diplomacy: Emerging Trends & Challenges’. She began by shedding more light on the use of social networking in the field of diplomacy and how it has bolstered international relations and contributed heavily to nation-building. She expanded the scope of public diplomacy by including the domestic audiences that the governments wish to cater to along with the foreign public. She stresses the usage of Information and Communication technologies and how this has shaped the way the ministries work, engage and collaborate with their counterparts. The reasons for this include the prime positioning of the public within the communication network and the brilliant speed and reach of the medium. While listing down the advantages of the medium, she highlights the factors such as a more participatory environment, obsoletion of borders and horizontal communication which gives it an edge over the traditional mediums.
Domestic incidents have international repercussions in the current age. She cited the example of George Floyd to prove her point. She credits the USA for having implemented this communication in its diplomatic framework as a runup to the cold war and also in the post-9/11 era. While shifting her focus to India, she listed down the objectives of the country like establishing its image globally and countering the European influence. She took the participants on a journey of how India adopted this effective crisis management tool from August 2003 when the website of MEA India was launched followed by the India-Africa connect website in 2010-11, the mobile app in 2013 and alert notifications in 2014 and the Youtube channels in subsequent years. In 2017-18, MEA’s moniker on Twitter for grievance redressal and its debut on Linkedin were major milestones too.
She cites examples of Operation Homecoming and multiple individual requests which were taken up via Twitter. She later does an analysis of the tweets shared and tweeted by the PMO and his personal handle and looks at each tweet from different perspectives. She finally also talks about the evil of disinformation and how that is used by the public and governments to mislead the general public and create narratives and in the Indian example, fuel religious hatred and extremism. It is also used by the governments to engage in damage control measures in disturbed areas such as abolishing internet services among other measures. She later answered participants’ questions on the freedom of speech in this internet age, information in the pandemic era and even the security challenge in digital platforms.
Prof Sumit Ganguly discussed the topic ‘New India: A Great Power’. Prof Ganguly first talked about India’s hopes and aspirations, which were followed by India’s prospects of becoming a great power and then the limitations and the way forward in the same direction. He went back in history and gave the participants an insight into British colonialism and how the then PM Nehru had the vision to see India as a civilisational state and how he sought that through international peacekeeping, global disarmament, delegitimizing colonial enterprise and talking about North-South global inequities. He adds that the subsequent leaders, regardless of their ideologies, have believed in this dream of making India a great power. Moving to the promises and prospects, he states the great civilizational perspective that India offers with its heritage and multiple perspectives which needs to be taken seriously in world politics. Listing down a few material reasons, he mentions that India is the 5th largest economy in the world, has the second largest military force in the world with nuclear capabilities, liberal economic reforms, and a growth rate of 7 per cent for the current fiscal year. According to a World Bank report, India cut down poverty by 12% which is a major feat for any developing country.
The limitations to these claims are that still, 28% of the population live under the poverty line, 44% of children are still underweight, 17% of India’s urban population live in inadequate housing conditions, and 287 million Indians are still illiterate. All of this has a sandbagging effect on the Indian economy. These statistics hint toward the deterioration of the human capital which can have serious repercussions on the Indian dream of becoming a great power. The future prospects of India include, according to Prof Ganguly, the dominant position in regional order with limited influence in global politics. He stresses the education aspect which India has to work upon tremendously. India has worked on tertiary or higher education but needs to better its numbers in the primary education category. He also elaborated upon his concerns over India sustaining economic growth in the long term. He also flagged off certain issues like healthcare and pointed out the irony that India is known for its medical tourism image, yet in the pandemic, its state was one of the worst in the whole world. Next, he emphasized the climate calamity which India needs to address on a war footing.
Lastly, he also raises his concerns over the rising religious tolerance and atmosphere of hatred in the country and going away from the religious pluralism that it has always embodied. He finally concluded by engaging with the participants in a Question and Answer session on topics such as poverty alleviation programmes, China posing as a security challenge and even ways through which the Indian government can reduce religious intolerance. This marked the end of the 3-day immersive online certificate course on ‘Emerging Dimensions of India’s Foreign Policy and Global Politics’. Dr Souravie Ghimiray, the moderator throughout the duration of the course presented the formal vote of thanks. She extended heartfelt gratitude to the distinguished and renowned panellists for imparting their valuable knowledge to the participants on behalf of IMPRI. She also expressed her gratitude to the participants and the organizing team of IMPRI for making this course a successful and seamless learning experience.
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Acknowledgement: Manush Shah, research intern at IMPRI

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