In the Fourth Conference of Indian Heads of Missions held in New Delhi – last month, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna and foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai said three things in common. During the event that was attended by 117 Ambassadors from across the world- including top policy makers and strategic thinkers – Mr. Singh, Krishna and Mathai urged for establishing friendly and cooperative ties with the neighbors, emphasized for the greater connectivity in South Asia so that the engine of progress in the region could be energized and serve the domestic growth needs. This according to them has unquestionably been an imperative for expanding economic opportunities in trade and development.
Furthermore, it was explained that in an emerging multi-polar world, multiplicity of issues have governed international relations and India’s wide and extensive political and economic engagement with the major powers during the last two decades have yielded rich results .Besides, it was admitted that in a most dynamic and difficult regional and international environment, close ties with the neighboring countries on the fundamental principles of equality and mutual respect to each other’s concerns, is basic for its aim to gain greater weight in emerging new international system that according to some is being governed by a tri-polar world order with a multi-polar character.
Obviously, what India has achieved in the last two decade, is not a miracle but the result of great visionary zeal, courage and hard work its leaders exhibited beginning from1991. In July that year – wrapping up his historical budget speech, Finance Minister Manmohan Singh quoted Victor Hugo and said that “no power on earth can stop an idea whose time has come”. Then he continued “that the emergence of India as a major economic power in the world happens to be one such idea. Let the whole world hear it loud and clear. India is now wide awake. We shall prevail. We shall overcome.”
Indubitably, Singh proved to become a prophet. He exhibited that he owns the passion to become the Finance Minister of a newly appointed government of the world’s largest democracy that financially was on the brink of collapse. It was living with the huge fiscal deficit. Its foreign reserve was almost nil – not even adequate to buy oil for one week. As there are many admirers for success while failures have none; no country in world was prepared to bail out India. This had forced the largest democracy of the world deposit its gold reserve to foreign bank and receive loan to sustain its economic life.
Fortunately, the Prime Minister he had to serve was India’s most experienced, effective and creative one- P.V. Narsimha Rao. A cool headed Rao, unmistakably confirmed his courage to turn the course of history with a path breaking policy intervention that freed all the forces of economic potential that was bridled under the garb of most corrupt practice of state controlled economy. The policy of economic liberalization, reforms and restructuring gave India a new sense of pride in international arena- attuned to internal and external demands and hard realities.
To quote Gurucharan Das “The economic revolution that Narsimha Rao launched in the middle of 1991 may well be more important than the political revolution that Jawaharlal Nehru initiated in 1947”. Indeed the reform he initiated in 1991 as finance minister and the new series of reforms announcement that was made recently exhibits the courage and visionary zeal of apparently meek and soft spoken Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. This time again he dared to put before his countrymen that only a good amount of good economics can give India a fresh mandate for its role in a new Asian century.
Next was the India’s strategic partnership with United States that began after 9/11. This indeed was the greatest transformation of India’s foreign and strategic policy after independence. Immediately thereafter, Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee sending a letter to U.S. President George W. Bush made a historic offer that U.S. may use Indian military bases in its fights against terrorism. A country known as the leader of non aligned world came to align with America that ultimately led to the ground breaking U.S. –India Civil Nuclear Cooperation agreement that was signed on October 2008.
The third was the Gujral Doctrine – that was spelt out for the first time by Prime Minister I.K. Gujral in a speech in Sri Lanka in January 1997. According to him, instead of reciprocity, India wants good faiths and trust with its smaller neighbors. There will be no use of their territory against any other South Asian countries and no interference in internal affairs of another neighbor. Other principles included – respect each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty along with settlements of all the disputes through peaceful bilateral negotiations. The Gujral doctrine – considered soft diplomacy on all issues with its neighbors, created high expectations in the region that on many accounts was considered dogged by Indian domination.
To institutionalize the three major policy shifts mentioned above, three major policy documents are published in India since last February. The first is – Nonalignment 2.0- A Foreign and Strategic Policy for India in the Twenty First Century. It was prepared by some of India’s prominent strategic thinkers and policy makers. Next was – India’s Neighbourhood : Challenges in the Next Two Decades – that was published in July this year by Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA) – an autonomous advisory body of the Government of India. The document has mainly recommended the policy makers to fine-tune its diplomatic apparatus and deal with the uncertainties and emerging realities in its vicinity effectively and systematically.
The third is another IDSA publication – Grand Strategy for India 2020 and Beyond. This intends to mark and map India’s impressive economic transformation and its impact upon the strategic challenges posed by emerging international environment.
All the three documents have aimed to institutionalize three major changes taking place in national, regional and global environment since early 1990s that offered exceptional opportunity for India in shaping Indian foreign policy in a new direction.
Unquestionably the first major change was the end of the Cold War and collapse of the Soviet Union.
The second was the exponential rise of China’s economic and military power that to a large extent has overturned the regional and global balance of power. And the third was the relative decline of the Europe and U.S.’s new “Asian pivot” policy.
And apparently the decade we are living in will soon reveal how far inherent change in India’s policy dynamics could meet the highly uncertain geo-political structural challenges of the international system and help India achieve a major power status – a right for a country of its size with the geo-political and economic power base. But a right becomes right when supported by some kind of moral principles that are justifiably backed by its strategic and economic power. Time will say how far India can attain this and meet the strategic expectations it postulated by means of its three documents published this year.