When India became politically independent from the Britishers in 1947, most people, especially the Western world believed that India would become balkanised and disintegrate into smaller Geographical entities. It did not happen as Indian leaders in the succeeding decades maintained an atmosphere of peace and harmony by invoking various kinds of moralities.
Sheepish Foreign Policy for 5 decades
However, domestic polity and international politics are two totally different domains. Though the same breed of homo sapiens act in both spheres, the moral system can easily be termed as diametrically opposite. Those same virtues of kindness and compassion which help a politician gain vote share may turn out to be antithetical to a country’s interest if not backed by historical evidence of it pushing back when these virtues are used against it.
This is what successive politicians (especially Prime Ministers) failed to understand when they were devising India’s Foreign Policy. They thought that Shri Ram’s virtue of tolerance would pave the way for India’s diplomatic victory in the modern world. But they failed to read the underlying principle of Prabhu Ram’s soft power; a potent Rajya which is economically, strategically, militaristically independent. Only when a country has these three things in order, can it afford to confidently engage in diplomacy.
Congress kept punching below India’s weight
That is why, in spite of the ‘tryst with destiny’, every country witnessed decline in India’s perception on the international stage. Nehru’s proactive initiative towards Non Alignment movement did not bear any fruit as countries refused to put India on pedestal. Similarly, ‘Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai’ policy also proved to be a big failure when in the absence of any deterrence from India, China found it easy to launch an offensive. It was confident that the Indian political establishment would be unwilling to go all-out anti-China. Well, the Chinese proved to be right as the Nehru administration refused to use air power, handling humiliation to India.
The 1960s was the decade of green revolution. India was becoming self-sufficient in terms of food. People expected that now the country would start punching on international fora, but to no avail. Before Indira Gandhi visited the USA, Nixon had remarked about the Indian PM, “Undoubtedly the most unattractive women in the world are the Indian women”. If this is their attitude towards the Indian Prime Minister, then there is no need to speculate about the insults faced by Indian Foreign Service staff in the USA and its allied nations.
The socialist era further degraded India’s reputation
But Indira and Congress did not learn their lessons. They kept pushing socialist agenda in the country. The internal and eventually external state of the country kept getting weaker and weaker over the next two decades. In 1991, the looming balance of payment crisis resulted in western hegemons imposing their will through LPG reforms in India. It was probably the biggest economic humiliation for India as Manmohan Singh and Co. had airlifted our national Gold reserve to save the economy.
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But LPG reforms proved to be a blessing in disguise. The fact that gates of economy were now opened for competition meant that India had more clout on international economic forums. Naturally, it translated into more strategic influence. But, Narsimha Rao again failed to capitalise on the momentum, evidently in India’s cowardice on 1995 Pokhran tests. Just because the Clinton administration had got a clue of our preparedness, India decided to abort its mission to become a nuclear state.
India desperately missed a leader
5 decades had passed and there was no visible change in India’s foreign policy. Our representatives still spoke in the same low-pitched tone, not willing to offend the establishment. They used to dress up like Western Diplomats, spoke in a language and even accent which their erstwhile colonial counterparts could understand. Except for proactive engagement in the Bangladesh liberation war, Indians had no substantive evidence to claim that their country had ever shown any aggressive instinct to protect its own national interest.
Indians were unable to grasp why our country was perceived so much weak on supranational forums. By the end of millennium, India had a strong diaspora, our country had started to walk the talk on economic agenda, our military was ever growing; virtually there was no reason for Indian representatives to feel inferior. So, why not pushback against Big Daddies of the world?
Vajpayee Ji changed things
The answer lies in the leadership quality. For 50 years, India had only few leaders who could impose their authority in front of world leaders. Well, Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee changed that. He took Indian Foreign Policy several notches up. Shri Vajpayee strengthened India’s security by fearlessly declaring that India had become a nuclear armed state in 1998. The Clinton administration decided to boycott India, but Vajpayee did not move.
Putting USA on the backburner, India strived to strengthen its relationship with other countries including China, Iran and Russia among others. India’s decision to adhere to its Nuclear Power status resulted in Clinton becoming the first US President to tour India in 22 years. During this visit the two sides signed a comprehensive document – ‘India Relations: A Vision for the 21st Century’. Its benefits were ripped by the Manmohan Singh government in the form of the Nuclear Deal. In fact, India’s strong bonding with Russia is credited to Shri Vajpayee taking President Putin on board way back in the year 2000 itself.
Years of staying in opposition had taught Shri Vajpayee that until we develop our own independent internal apparatus, we cannot assert our authority. He did it in tremendous fashion. The body posture and dressing sense of Indian delegates remarked a noticeable difference. It was led by Shri Vajpayee himself becoming the first leader to deliver a United Nations General Assembly speech in Hindi.
UPA whitewashed all the development of Vajpayee era
But, Vajpayee Jee lost in 2004 and with him any hopes of India’s revival on global level also witnessed a slide. Though a rare spark was seen during Bush’ tour to India in 2006, it was just an occasional brilliance. Under Manmohan Singh, India was so much subdued that it could not even avenge the ghastly Mumbai attacks of 2008.
Next 6 years were wasted in policy paralysis and the country’s image kept suffering due to multiple scams. Government’s failure to control Pakistan backed terrorism and internal insurgency resulted in international leaders forgetting Manmohan Doctrine. Why would they not? No one would trust a government who cannot maintain peace inside its own ruled territory. Frankly, India had become a laughing stock, especially during UPA2 days.
PM Modi arrives and with him India too
Circa. 2014. PM Modi arrives on the horizon. During election rallies, he had already made his intentions clear. He openly talked about weeding out illegal Bangladeshis, taking China head on and making Indian polity more welcoming for Hindus settled in other countries, especially our neighbourhood. Apparently, experts slowly became aware of the fact that Mr Modi was the first Prime Minister born after independence. So, it would not be a surprise for them if then Gujarat CM ushers in with a revolutionary shift in Foreign Policy during his tenure as Prime Minister.
PM Modi knew that other than some big international forums like the United Nations, most of the regional forums devised by Westerners and newly confident nations like China were hindrances in the development of developing and underdeveloped countries. To counter this multi-partisanship on a world level, PM Modi started to emphasise on strengthening bilateral relations with individual countries. He did not negate the role of forums (he invited every SAARC nation), but at the same time he balanced them out with his initiative towards stronger bilateral ties.
PM Modi’s emphasis on regional ties was visible during his inaugural ceremony as well. He was so keen on getting everyone on board that the Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif was invited for the event as well. PM Modi’s decision to depart from regional factionalism of big countries sent tremors in the forein policy establishment of these countries. Their market access was going to be snatched from them.
Tremors down the UNSC permanent members
Looking at PM Modi’s pro-industrial outlook as Gujarat CM, countries had realised that nothing can stop India’s economic growth. This would mean a burgeoning middle class turning into a huge consumer base for the companies located in these countries. Fearing that they might miss the bus, the big 5 of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) sent their delegations to India within the first 100 days of the formation of Modi Cabinet. Dignitaries included Foreign Minister, Secretary of state, envoy among others.
On the other hand, PM Modi had embarked on another mission. Without caring for any negative headlines by the left end of the media spectrum, PM Modi toured country after country, just to give them confidence that the Modi led Indian government is a lot different from Manmohan led Indian set up. New government was aggressive, forthright and decisive. The extent of his seriousness towards snubbing the multinational forums can be gauged from the fact that during his first speech at UNGA, PM Modi asked for review of 7 decades of performance of the body. During the same speech, he pitched for recognition of Yoga Day.
Soft power and undermining forums
India’s moment of reckoning had arrived. Leaders knew it, Diplomats knew it, Business leaders knew it but people did not. Soon, they got a wink of India’s clout when in 2015, the United Nations decided to celebrate 21 June as Yoga Day every year. Believe it or not, but even Saudi Arabia celebrated this day with full enthusiasm. Operation Raahat conducted by India to evacuate Indians and foreign citizens from war in Yemen turned out to be yet another turning point in thumping India’s soft power perception.
Read more: Operation Sukoon, Operation Raahat and 3 more – India’s biggest evacuation programs to date
Soon, India started to mark its presence in regional forums as well. Given the fact that India now focussed on forming individual bonds, it decided to finally not forgive Pakistan in SAARC. PM Modi refused to make SAARC another forum to discuss Kashmir and literally killed the regional forum by effectively refusing to accept Pakistan’s leadership in SAARC. It is dead for all intents and purposes. Even China with observer status could not save it.
Read more: Pakistan’s Taliban obsession becomes the final blow for an already dying SAARC
India focused on building trust but gave in back when backstabbed
Though PM Modi was negating their authority on forums, he was equally keen on establishing diplomatic ties with both China and Pakistan. In the wee hours of 2015, PM Modi’s plane made a sudden landing in Pakistan. Apparently, it was to extend birthday wishes to Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. On the other hand, within the first three years, PM Modi visited China on three occasions. For a brief period, it looked as if China would also be reciprocating India’s gesture as Xi Jinping also toured India during subsequent years.
But both countries decided to stab India in the back. Within a few months of PM Modi’s wishes to the Pakistani PM, the Pakistani state launched terrorist attacks in Uri. On the other hand, China returned our gesture with the Galwan valley attack. India did not respond in kind as well and launched multiple surgical strikes in Pakistan. Similarly, Indian forces thrashed China left, right and centre in Galwan valley.
Read more: A Viral video from China proves that many PLA soldiers were killed in Galwan Valley clash with India
India decimated China on every front
But, modern enemies need to suffer more in diplomatic loss than in front to front fights. India launched a full-fledged offensive against Pakistan. It made it clear to the terrorist nation that Kashmir is India’s integral part and it needs to stop dreaming about the valley. India walked out whenever Pakistan used the word Kashmir in the UN.
When it came to China, India decided that it would ensure its destruction from multiple fronts. It drastically reduced economic dependence on China, choking its state-controlled flow of money. On the borders, it got strict on enforcing prevalent international boundaries. It also took strict stands on the South China Sea.
Read more: China had created BRICS to take on the US, now the last brick of BRICS has fallen
However, India’s biggest contribution to China’s decline was registered in its systematic destruction of China-led initiatives. By bilaterally engaging with countries like South Africa and Russia, India virtually diminished the importance of organisations like Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and BRICS. Both organisations are on the verge of sinking into oblivion. Similarly, PM Modi refused to join China dominated Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
Read more: First BRICS and now SCO- PM Modi is sparing no chance in embarrassing Xi Jinping on the world stage
India nourished replacement of unfriendly forums and countries
But cornering China was not enough. It was also required to emerge as a viable replacement for China on the global scale. PM Modi recognised QUAD as a place for utilising anti-China sentiments. Australia, Japan and the USA are on board. Though, there are some doubts about its future in the wake of the fact that except PM Modi, no head of the state is effectively anti-China, but US midterm elections tilting in favour of Trump’s party is expected to bring change in momentum.
Read more: Quad’s new move to “take care” of China’s neighbour aggression
India has Independent Foreign Policy
Based on opening its wings in multiple directions, India is whistling past international diplomacy. It is not scared of even the biggest of superpowers. While the whole world was pushing India to take a strict stand on Russia, India decided to stay overtly neutral on voting against Russia in the United Nations. Not only that, in the wake of Russia facing sanctions, India decided to use this opportunity to increase its bilateral trade with the former Soviet Union.
Read more: Dear Shashi Tharoor, notice carefully – India has already taken a side in the Russia-Ukraine war
It was a calculated move on part of India. As reported by TFI, India decided to engage with Cuba, the long-term nemesis of the USA, which sent shock waves in White House. Soon, the USA came up with the statement that India’s trade with Russia won’t impact its relationship with the USA. The Biden administration made the next move by trying to corner India on human rights, only to be categorically rebutted by ever-confident S. Jaishankar. Our Foreign Minister became an instant Superstar in India.
Read more: S Jaishankar tears into the US and the West in his Raisina dialogues speech
India is a leader of post-covid world order
What Jaishankar’s body language and unequivocal statements reflect is a distillation of India’s emergence in the post covid world order. After spending the first 5 years building a solid base to launch India’s uptight international relations policy, PM Modi and EAM Jaishankar decided to launch a final offensive after the Galwan valley attack. India went on a rampage and effectively undermined every forum advocating for China, including the World Health Organisation. Believe it or not, all around the world, Covid vaccines having Indian stamps are more credible than any of them having the backing of WHO and big pharma.
Read more: Mansukh Mandaviya went to WHO and shred their lies right in front of them
Similarly, in 2022, India has established itself in a position where it can control the working of the International Monetary Forum (IMF), World Trade Organisation (WTO) and even G20 and G7 behemoths. By putting a curb on Wheat Export, India has virtually brought these forums to their knees. Initially, individual countries tried to browbeat India for not letting China hoard Indian wheat, but when India maintained its stand, these countries took the help of organisations like G7 and IMF to ask India for help. But, barring a few exceptions, the Modi government does not look in a mood to listen to anyone until its demand for structural changes in WTO is met.
Read more: It’s time for India to show the WTO that humility is the prime virtue of a beggar
India is more assertive than ever
To sum it all, India is dominating everywhere. G20 grouping was already in awe of PM Modi and India’s potential. Similarly, through the International Solar alliance, India has taken 81 UN members on board. In the last 8 years, PM Modi and EAM Jaishankar have ensured that those forums and countries which do not listen to India’s demand became irrelevant and India started to develop a counter to them.
Read more: PM Modi led International Solar Alliance can prove to be an effective counter to OPEC cartel
For nearly 7 decades, Indians wanted a non-filmy superstar on the country’s moral horizon. PM Modi and EAM Jaishankar have fulfilled that wish. India of 2022 will take USA head on and if it does not listen, it will mount pressure through helping its enemy Cuba. India has now exact idea of when to attack, where to attack and also the magnitude of those attacks. This is exactly what was needed to mingle with India’s overly defensive Foreign Policy.
The cocktail of newly found controlled aggression and underlying legacy of defensive policy is juicy. Ask world leaders how it tastes.