Fundamentals of PUBLIC POLICY is An Online Spring School Program, A Four-Week Immersive Online Introductory Certificate Training Course conducted in March 2023. Ambassador Shashank began his insightful session on ‘India’s Foreign Policy‘ by emphasizing the critical importance of public awareness regarding global affairs. He underscored the need for individuals to understand the broader international environment and its implications for India and the wider Asian region. Ambassador Shashank went on to discuss the historical context of India’s foreign policy and its evolution over the years.
At the outset, Ambassador Shashank highlighted the unique circumstances that India faced when it gained independence. During the struggle for freedom from British colonial rule, India’s leaders had primarily focused on the freedom movement itself. Consequently, the matter of foreign policy came to the forefront rather abruptly after India achieved independence. The leaders of the newly independent nation found themselves grappling with the complexities of international relations and diplomacy.
India’s Foreign Policy
Ambassador Shashank emphasized that India’s understanding of foreign policy has largely been shaped by experience. In the first two to three decades after gaining independence, India’s foreign policy was influenced by several factors, including geopolitical considerations and international developments. During this period, India’s foreign policy approach was pragmatic and focused on building diplomatic ties with other countries based on mutual interests. India’s leaders, cognizant of the nation’s newly gained independence and the global landscape, worked to establish relationships that would benefit all parties involved. These early years were marked by India’s efforts to navigate the international arena and engage with various nations to advance its own interests.
However, the end of the Cold War brought about significant shifts in the global landscape. With the geopolitical dynamics changing rapidly, countries around the world were compelled to reassess their foreign policy strategies. India was no exception to this trend. Ambassador Shashank highlighted that India’s response to the post-Cold War era was characterized by a shift in its foreign policy approach. India recognized the need to adapt to the evolving international scenario and took a more proactive stance in shaping its foreign policy priorities.
One key aspect of India’s foreign policy in this phase was the emphasis on building issue-based partnerships. India understood that its foreign policy decisions had to align with the interests and aspirations of its diverse population. As a democratic nation, India’s foreign policy had to reflect the values and priorities of its people rather than being determined solely by the beliefs of a few leaders. This perspective on foreign policy continues to be of paramount importance in contemporary times.
Ambassador Shashank stressed that India’s foreign policy must always take into account the welfare and interests of its entire population. It is essential that the policies and decisions made at the international level are in sync with the values and principles that India holds dear as a democratic nation. Moreover, India’s foreign policy also extends its considerations to its immediate neighbors, particularly those with whom it shares physical borders. These neighboring countries hold a significant place in India’s foreign policy calculus, and India strives to maintain harmonious and mutually beneficial relationships with them.
The legacy of India’s freedom movement is another crucial factor that influences its foreign policy. Ambassador Shashank emphasized that India’s struggle for independence was a collective effort, involving people from all walks of life, regardless of gender, literacy, or social status. This inclusive nature of the freedom movement left a lasting impact on India’s approach to foreign policy. India acknowledges that its foreign policy must consider the diverse perspectives and interests of its citizens. The nation’s foreign policy formulation process involves the incorporation of these various viewpoints, ensuring that the voices of all segments of society are heard and represented.
In the years following the end of the Cold War, India actively engaged with other countries, both developed and developing, to forge meaningful partnerships. India recognized the importance of working collaboratively on global issues while respecting the interests and priorities of partner nations.
Ambassador Shashank also highlighted India’s role as the current holder of the G20 presidency. This position offers India a unique opportunity to further its foreign policy objectives and amplify the voices of countries from the global South. India’s commitment to including the perspectives and concerns of Southern countries was evident from the start of its G20 presidency when Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a meeting with leaders from the global South. The changing global landscape has brought forth various challenges and opportunities for countries around the world.
Issues such as the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the rise of the Chinese Communist Party, and discomfort among NATO countries have had far-reaching implications. These developments have prompted companies to reconsider their global supply chains and manufacturing bases. In response to such shifting dynamics, countries from the global South must explore partnerships that allow them to participate in processes like on-shoring and off-shoring.
At the same time, they must remain committed to their obligations related to climate change, address food security concerns, and assert their importance on the global stage. Ambassador Shashank also shed light on the challenges facing European countries, particularly in the aftermath of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
These nations have struggled to regulate their financial structures amidst instability and have been hosts to a significant number of refugees from the Middle East who sought refuge from the instability in Arab nations spanning two decades. These European countries, in addition to grappling with low birth rates, face the looming threat of economic recession. These multifaceted challenges have raised questions about the role of the U.S. dollar as the accepted currency in international relations.
The Middle Eastern region, which experienced significant turmoil and mutual rivalries in the past two decades, is now witnessing increased Chinese and Russian influence. These countries are working to strengthen relations among themselves and improve their regional stability. In the midst of these global dynamics, it is essential to ensure that the voices of developing countries like India are not marginalized or overlooked.
India’s foreign policy seeks to promote its own interests while advancing the collective aspirations of the global South. India has actively pursued initiatives to enhance relations with its neighboring countries. Collaborative platforms like SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) and BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) play a crucial role in this endeavor.
Furthermore, India has taken steps to bolster its strategic partnerships in the region. The India-Iran-Afghanistan strategic partnership aims to improve infrastructure connectivity to Central Asia, enhancing regional trade and cooperation. India has also joined hands with countries like Japan, Australia, and the United States, along with other developing nations committed to ensuring a peaceful and prosperous Asia. These partnerships focus on addressing regional challenges and fostering stability and growth.
Ambassador Shashank emphasized India’s active participation in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). This organization includes all Central Asian countries and is dedicated to countering terrorism, a priority issue for its member nations. India’s engagement with the SCO reflects its commitment to regional security and stability.
Above all, Ambassador Shashank reiterated that India’s primary goal in its foreign policy endeavors is to prioritize the well-being and interests of its citizens. While there may not be a formal set of written rules or regulations, akin to a constitution, for international matters, the welfare of citizens should always be the paramount consideration in all discussions and decisions. This approach ensures that India’s foreign policy remains rooted in the principles of inclusivity, equity, and the betterment of humanity. India continues to adapt and evolve its foreign policy strategies in response to the changing global landscape, while upholding its core values and democratic principles.
Acknowledgement: Aasthaba Jadeja is a research intern at IMPRI.
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