From Non-Alignment to Multi-Alignment

India’s foreign policy must remain geared to multi-alignment to secure India’s interests in a disordered world order
It was during the meeting of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) at Samarkand that PM Modi advised the Russian President Mr. Putin  “now is not an era of war”.
It was during the meeting of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) at Samarkand that PM Modi advised the Russian President Mr. Putin “now is not an era of war”.File: ANI

India’s neutral position on Russian invasion of Ukraine is still  a subject-matter of debate among  policy circles. The different  political parties in India have also stated  their position on this policy stance. The opposition parties supported PM Modi but some Congress leaders promptly pointed out that Jawaharlal Nehru’s policy of Non-Alignment (NAM) has stood the test of the time.

It was during the meeting of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) at Samarkand that PM Modi advised the Russian President Mr. Putin  “now is not an era of war”. Many  policy pundits initially after 2014 looked at PM Modi only a provincial leader who at one time as Chief Minister of Gujarat  was a strong votary of federal system in India.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s invitation to SAARC leaders to attend his swearing-in ceremony on May 26, 2014 surprised them as it had makings of shock and awe tactic. Some people described it as international coup of sorts.

Mr. Modi went ahead  and told ISRO scientists to develop a SAARC satellite that would provide useful applications and services to neighboring countries. Some commentators found in Modi a leader  with  ideas for building a better regional and global order. The policy stance on Ukraine has only confirmed it.

In this limited space  I shall  attempt  to  analyze  three shifts  in “Non-Alignment” as a principle of Indian foreign policy  to understand  its transition to “Multi-Alignment” under the leadership of PM Modi. Additionally I shall argue that foreign policy under PM Modi must remain  geared to multi-alignment to secure India’s interests in a disordered world order.

The Non-alignment as a principle of foreign policy evolved under India’s, first prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who personally presided over the new establishment in independent India. The first phase of NAM was broadly from 1947 to 1984. In a bipolar world led by two power blocks  USA and Soviet Union the Indian state was only navigating independence in its foreign policy thinking. The birth pangs of new India with internal political and economic challenges hindered the autonomy of its external policy and India became a  de facto Soviet allay. The shadow of cold war had fallen on the subcontinent and foreign policy establishment missed the opportunity to develop a coherent neighborhood policy. The early militarization of neighborhood with  supply of arms from USA created its own complications.  

Non-Alignment 2.0

This phase coincided with the  arrival of  late Prime Minister  Rajiv Gandhi  and lasted till 2014. In this phase NAM largely walked along time tested principles of  Indian foreign policy. The  foreign policy establishment got benefitted by inputs supplied by some reputed think tanks in India. A policy document titled as “Non-Alignment 2.0 : A Foreign and Strategic policy for India in twenty first century” was  prepared in 2012  by best minds in foreign and security policy  which  attempted  to identify the core values that should anchor the foreign and strategic policy of India in the next decade. NAM 2.1 states that India cannot hope to arrive at a great power status  if it is unable to manage relationships within South Asia. India’s top priority must be to deepen economic engagement in the region which is least economically integrated and where its ability to command respect is considerably diminished.

The document states that India needs to go extra mile to reassure its neighbors and be prepared for more unilateral concessions on trade, investment and aid. In the specific Pakistan context the document states that India’s approach to Pakistan has periodically swung between the extremes of comprehensive engagement and almost complete disengagement. The main concern of experts as reflected in the NAM 2.0 is to look at Pakistan not as an autonomous entity but as an extension of China’s strategic competition with India.

The document states that: Pakistan’s all weather friendship with China shields it against adverse international fall-out from the pursuit of its anti-India policies. Rising China will shield Pakistan in spite of the fact that China has concerns regarding Jihadist fundamentalism in Pakistan. China may at best show annoyance to Pakistan and the latter can even quickly deliver on China’s concerns. The policy document aimed at enhancing strategic autonomy of Indian state.

Non-Alignment  to Multi-Alignment

The doctrine of NAM  under Prime Minister Mr. Modi has passed into the 3rd phase commonly called as NAM 3.0. The present phase of Indian foreign policy is characterized as one reflecting  multi-alignment in international relations. This  shift  suggests  that India needs to forge alignments with all power centers aiming at improving strategic autonomy and  security of India’s interests. The age old principle viz, there are neither permanent friends nor permanent  enemies but only permanent interests  remains fully relevant. The doctrine of multi-alignment suggests  that  China as a regional hegemon and  leading power is a threat and the USA as a superpower is an economic opportunity. This may sound rational but looks simplistic in a multipolar world. Some  well known experts statistically argue that since 1950 the percentage of wars that seemingly stronger powers win was dropping to less than half. An illustration of this can be seen in  the illusion of power both in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In the coming times India is going to take up leadership of G 20 and Shanghai Cooperation Organization  which means  more   responsibility at regional and global level. The doctrine of multi-alignment as a core operative principle of external relations has multiple benefits regionally and in the global setting. The multi-alignment theory demands to avert threat from China and remove over-dependence on USA. Already there are voices calling for de-Russification of Indian armed forces and indigenization of India’s technical/industrial base. Someone has aptly said, ‘’when the wind of change blows some build walls while others build windmills”. In this context the Modi government needs to keep lines of communication open with all neighboring countries to enhance its strategic weight in the neighborhood. This will help in checkmating Chinese intrusion in India-Pakistan relations and also limiting its influence in India’s periphery. The Indian foreign policy establishment needs to appreciate that there is no war to end all wars and there is no full stop to diplomacy in reaching out to neighboring countries. In 1962 Mao told Zhou Enlai that India and China should practice not peaceful co-existence but armed co-existence. Even otherwise for China diplomacy is art of deception and  PM Modi did recognize it when he said that China has expansionist mindset. What needs to be done?

Three tenets of Modi’s foreign policy are going to be critically important for India to navigate its way in a conflictual world order to further strengthen the policy of  multi-alignment: First, how India under Modi is going to bring greater focus on  economic objectives to enhance national development goals and national power. second, how foreign policy is deployed to change thinking of the world about India as a  democracy and  an inclusive  society. Third, how Modi is going to give more regional push to his foreign policy to have a more secured and better connected  environment for all round development. We need double peace which means peace at home and also peace in the region. 

Professor Gull Wani is Kashmir based political Scientist

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not refl ect the views of GK.      

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