'India is still non-aligned. What has changed is India matters today', says Baron Swaraj Paul
Like any country, the foreign policy of India matters in a globalised world. It matters also because India is not just any other country but the largest democracy and a rising economic power. Before the creation of nation state called India, the founding fathers of the country placed their trust in being non-aligned. Back then, it was because of the experience of colonialism and the plunder policy of the west where self development at any cost was paramount. Post independence, India emerged as a nation which would firmly believe in peaceful rise and apart from sporadic allegations of meddling with neighbors' internal issues for example, Nepal; it's foreign policy has been idempotent since inception. However, the current Prime Minister has taken the Indian ambitions of being a global power to towering heights. This calls for an end of tinkering around the complex global issues. How ready is the current establishment to alter the existing route of global connection?
PM Narendra Modi is the most travelled prime minister of India. His foreign trips have often left the experts divided. Some cite them as pompous propaganda for self styled politics, while others see an attempt to establish a fresh image of India that is open, objective and optimistic. The truth is, Modi has criss-crossed the globe at a speed which leaves those like Obama and Putin way behind. The old school diplomats might be uneasy with the quick fix approach, but any conclusion should be seen in light of what has been brought to the table by the leader.
Baron Swaraj Paul, a UK based Indian business magnate and political veteran, describes the current pm's visits as an attempt to 'connect India with non-residents' who have always wanted to work for their country but were met with hostility. 'Big businesses based in India never wanted us to go and work there, they were jealous of NRIs, this government is bringing us all together' said the 38th richest man in the United Kingdom.
Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of India was the draughtsman who envisioned non-alignment as the standard formula for country in the long run. While this doctrine remains at the heart of Indian foreign policy; a few things that have been done by Modi signal change. It is difficult to forget an emotional tweet by Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, who on July 4, 2017 wrote, "my friend Indian Prime Minister, we have been waiting for you for a long time".
Modi is the first Indian prime minister to visit Israel. Since its creation, 70 years ago, and despite cooperating with India in agriculture, arms and technology, Israel never had the opportunity to host an Indian PM. All that we know on this issue is Nehru was an ardent supporter of undivided Palestine and his successors followed the same without much change. Modi has taken a step further and this is where the question arises about his stand in future. 48 hours after the horrific killings of Palestinians by Israeli troops, India did not express much apart from the routine 'we are sad' statement. One might call it a calculated move. But this is more like a cake and eat it too approach. A world leader cannot afford to stand with injustice and aberration.
Silence on complex global issues has been a problem with Indian foreign policy. This could be attributed to the non alignment strategy. In a world of turbulent international relations and ruptured ties, pressing the mute button by higher echelons could speak a volume about India's indecisiveness. India today is no more the India of 50s. However, Baron Paul disagrees with me. 'The world is changing and so is India…Everything changes at its time..We should not worry about what the west thinks', says the life Peer at the House of Lords.
Keeping the cards close to its chest can no longer be the option for modern India. Look at the irony. Saddam Hussein had great respect for India and Iraq has been a close ally but not much came from India in the wake of chaos created by the United States. The other factor is Russia which has been a traditional partner. But where does India stand on Ukraine? Or what does the country think of Skripal father-daughter poisoning in the UK? There is a lack of lucidity despite the much talked chemistry between Putin and Modi or Modi and May for that matter.
The recent deaths of demonstrators demand a reaction from a country which believes in democracy and aspires to be a world leader. The images of Modi hugging Netanyahu are fresh and so is the expectation from this old partner. Here, India can learn from one its all weather friends, France. The French president has condemned the incident and expressed his concerns.
Recently, he went to the United States, shook hands with Trump, got a kiss in return from the US president, displayed more than political camaraderie, but did not hold in while disapproving Trump's decision to move US embassy just weeks after the spectacle diplomacy in Washington. Is Prime Minister Modi willing to go a step further than fist bumping with the world leaders? As of now the fraught silence heralds nothing much has changed with regards to India's foreign policy. If anything, it is just the implementation of the rusty policy in a new way to create a mirage for TV shows.