• In India’s evolving foreign policy imagination, the pursuit of power and influence seems to eclipse the country’s traditions of normative behaviour and principled positions.
• Recently, the Central government told the Supreme Court, “we don’t want India to become a refugee capital,” even as the Border Security Force (BSF) had been pushing back Rohingya refugees from the eastern borders.
• India’s stand vis-à-vis Rohingya refugees is an indication of how new India proposes to deal with humanitarian issues in its neighbourhood.
• Its approach to the Rohingya crisis (i.e. its refusal to admit people fleeing for their lives into the country or to ask Myanmar to address the human rights violations against its Rohingya population) is informed by several realpolitik considerations
• India’s response to the Rohingya crisis, then, is in stark contrast to its long tradition of offering refuge to the region’s homeless.
• Through the much-publicised celebration of the India-Israel partnership, the government has made it clear that it seeks to pursue a foreign policy guided by realpolitik. From being ideological opponents to maintaining a relationship in the closet, India and Israel have come a long way.
• There is an instrumental rationale underlying the India-Israel relationship, especially in terms of national security and strategic considerations.
• But isn’t there a troubling politico-ideological narrative underwriting this partnership which seems to go beyond the material requirements of the Indian state.
• Non-alignment once used to be the cornerstone of India’s foreign policy, and even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, New Delhi continued to pay lip service to it.
• In 2016, only for the second time ever, India’s Prime Minister was not present at the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit.
• NAM stood for several important global movements: decolonisation, disarmament, correcting the inherent ills of the global economic order, etc.
• For sure, some of the founding ideals of NAM may have lost their relevance today, but the grouping can help rising powers such as India to enhance their global standing and influence.
• But then, solidarity with other developing countries is no more a foreign policy priority for New Delhi, nor is it greatly invested in strategic autonomy.
India and US
• With the U.S. designating India as a “Major Defence Partner”, it is one India’s closest strategic partners today.
• In 2016, India had signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement with the U.S. which gives both sides access to designated military facilities for refuelling and replenishment.
• Clearly, this is far more useful to the U.S. than to India. Several such agreements are in the pipeline. In 2014, the U.S. replaced Russia as India’s largest defence supplier, and the Russians started negotiating arms sales with Pakistan
Informal submit with Russian
• It is in this context that Mr. Modi’s ‘informal summit’ with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi is viewed as an attempt by both to reassure each other that the relationship has not lost its warmth.
• However, will India-Russia relations survive the several fundamental geopolitical and material transformations taking place in the Asian region and their sharp, and and seemingly irreconcilable, differences in dealing with them
• India’s post-normative approach to external behaviour also is a recognition of the importance of the pursuit of power in the contemporary international system. In that sense, the new foreign policy thinking in the country has some merits.
• The post-normative turn also comes with its challenges and complications.
• The soft power persuasiveness of a country is also the product of its political ideals, civilisational values and its cultural resonance. Choosing to exclusively focus on hard power for foreign policy outcomes sidelines our rich soft power attributes.
• The new India’s foreign policy choices also indicate the company it wishes to keep in the comity of nations and what it wants from the international system.