An independent foreign policy is imperative for India to assert its identity

We should reject the supposed unipolarity of the 1990s and the apparent bipolarity of the current system with the US and China at each end pulling strings to bring more nations into their ambit

External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar
External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar

D Raja/IPA

When the world is struggling with arguably the worst health crisis of modern history, there are some other long-term issues that are raising their heads. The tension between India and China in Ladakh and the plans for the annexation of the West Bank by Israel are issues that have brought the discussion around global power dynamics to the fore even when the world population is gripped with disease, sorrow, trauma and mass unemployment.

The tension at the Western Sector of the India-China border claimed lives from both sides and exposed the unresolved conflicts between the two neighbouring Asian giants. Donald Trump backed Israel’s plan at annexing the West Bank is the newest in a long series of forcing dispossession and stateless on Palestinians.

Both these instances make us look at the evolving global power dynamics. In the 1990s, after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, some enthusiastic commentators like Francis Fukuyama were quick in announcing the ‘End of history’ and label ideology as something unimportant and irrelevant in the conduct of global politics. The supposedly unipolar world that came to be after the Cold War, with USA acting as the global policeman and leader in all institutions, led the march of unabashed capitalism on a global scale. However, these claims, untenable as they were then as they are now, were seriously scrutinized by the events that unfolded.

The 9/11 terror attacks came to haunt the US and its allies and this non-conventional security threat challenged the established conceptions of security, war and modernity. The global policeman was seen asking and appealing for help to other countries of the world.

The global financial meltdown of 2008 exposed the realities of this neo-liberal world order more scathingly. All western led institutions of lending and exploitation crumbled before the inevitable logic of capitalism that is booms and busts. The crisis rendered thousands unemployed and destitute and the state had to bail out some of the largest financial corporations of the world with public money, obviously the poor and marginalised suffered the most.

The western world soon came to understand the importance of sharing the responsibility and adjusting to the new global realities such as the rise of China and India on an economic scale. The elite G-8 of the rich countries was replaced by G-20 to decide the economic course of the world, albeit still in a neo-liberal framework. This was an arrangement to share power and skip responsibility as it kept almost all poor and marginalised countries of the world out of decision-making and the rich got to decide what is best for everyone.

This established mechanism is riddled with crisis for now; the reasons are many. The rise of China as the workshop of the world made many established western powers insecure of their status. This has resulted in a trade and strategic war between China and the US, without caring for the real interests of the people and environment, which will tend to have disastrous consequences for most of the world and global population. What is of particular relevance for us here is what route India will take in the evolving bipolar world with the US and China at ends.

These situations are not new but the implications are much graver this time. Similar questions stalked us at the time of our independence from colonial rule. India resisted being dragged in the Cold War camps and opted for a non-aligned foreign policy and stood for the colonized and recently decolonized parts of the world.

However, in the recent past the Indian government’s foreign policy priorities have tilted more and more towards the US and have shown their commitment to the neo-liberal framework. There is no justification for this apparently pragmatic and natural looking course of policy since the tying of Indian interests to the American ones have brought disastrous consequences and dependency for India.

The Modi government’s pro-US policies have gained nothing but have snatched away the moral high ground from India. The support for Palestine has been muzzled in this environment and non-alignment abandoned; instead the government opted to play second fiddle to US in Asia. The US is trying to drag India into its conflict with China to protect the US interests in the Asia-Pacific region. At a time when the US is going to have a crucial Presidential election and Trump is facing a huge challenge, the US Secretary Pompeo has been making statements to compound the conflict that is there today between India and China. They are nothing but desperate attempts to safeguard the US interest in the region.

Domestically, the trade deals done to please the US bosses have resulted in the loss of livelihood, agricultural land, opportunities and hard-won labour rights of Indian working classes.

What the world needs today are international relations based on the principles of mutual respect, concern and cooperation and population involvement. The COVID-19 health crisis has exposed the bankruptcy of tall claims made by western nations. The privatised and inaccessible health care structure of western countries imploded under the sheer pressure of COVID and inhumane situations were created, whereas countries with a socialised or socialist public health care system fared much better.

Instead of spending resources on bitter trade wars or inhumane sanctions, which will only fill the coffers of the rich, public health and education are the kind of issues the world needs to come together on. Being the two big economies with immense manpower, India and China have a lot to contribute together.

The fruits of cooperation can only be reaped by giving space to everyone on the global platform. We should reject the supposed unipolarity of the 1990s and the apparent bipolarity of the current system with the US and China at each end pulling strings to bring more nations into their ambit. India should live up to its independent non-aligned credentials and play a constructive role in bringing a more inclusive, multipolar and just world order.

This can be initiated by stopping to bandwagon behind the US and insulating itself from US influence and conducting its foreign policy independently, by settling the boundary issues by meaningfully engaging with all neighbours including China.

Much hype was created recently about the PM Modi’s address to the 75th General Assembly of the United Nations where he put forward the oft-repeated demand of India’s inclusion in the UN Security Council. While the demand for Indian membership of the UNSC is justified, looking at the history, size, economy and potential to play a constructive role in global affairs, under the current dispensation, these credentials have been tainted by multiple inconsistencies, especially in the neighbourhood.

India should use its UNSC chair with an independent outlook and seek to use that position to represent other nations hitherto unrepresented or underrepresented at the big tables, continuing the tradition of speaking for the marginalised and those suffering from imperialism.

Unfortunately, the course Indian foreign policy has taken in the last few years does not correspond with this broad, inclusive worldview based on solidarity and instead has increasingly aligned with the US-Israel nexus strengthening western dominance in world affairs.

In this context, India and China, as world’s two most populous countries and mega-economies should engage in a meaningful dialogue having mutual trust to resolve the border disputes and to bring the current stand off to an end as soon as possible. India should strive to make the world more inclusive, just and sensitive to environment. India pursuing an independent foreign policy, thus, is not only essential for the country or the South Asian region alone, it has much more important role to play for the deprived populations of the world.

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