Distinguished Speakers and Participants,
A very warm welcome to ICWA’s Virtual International Seminar on ‘Celebrating 75 Years of Indian Foreign Policy’. In the six sessions of the Conference, discussions will cover the evolution of Indian foreign policy, its challenges and achievements, its contributions to regional and global discourse, in the last seven decades and how its journey will be over the next seven decades. ICWA is honored to have the participation of senior and seasoned former diplomats, who have contributed to shaping of India’s foreign policy; former Generals who bring a special perspective to an understanding of strategic issues; and eminent scholars, academicians and political analysts, both from India and overseas, who have observed and written about international relations. Thank you very much for joining.
2. Last year, India marked 75 years of its independence and celebrated it, as Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav. India, since freeing itself from colonial rule, has come a long way. As the world’s largest democracy, one of the fastest growing major economies, an innovative society with the world’s third largest start-up ecosystem and an IT leader-with an impressive public digital infrastructure, India today has the capacities and capabilities to contribute, in a very large measure, to global stability and to global public goods. Foreign policy and diplomatic efforts have played an integral part in India’s developmental journey.
3. India has now entered its Amrit Kal, the next 25-year period which will lead to the centenary of its independence. By all estimations, India @2047 would be a developed country, the third largest economy of the world and a key voice in the comity of nations. In this next phase too, which is likely to be extremely complex and fast changing both geo-strategically and geo- economically, India’s foreign policy and diplomatic efforts will play a critical role in the nation’s future growth.
4. Important principles of India’s foreign policy are support for dialogue and engagement in the international arena; respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity; non-interference in internal affairs, commitment to peace and stability in the world and solidarity with the Global South.
5. In the earlier years, India was at fore-front of the fight against colonialism and apartheid, and was a founder member of NAM during the Cold War period. India has persistently followed an independent foreign policy that stresses on maintaining strategic autonomy which means that it adopted policies, both domestic and external based its national interest, without being constrained in any manner by other Nation States. India has stayed away from any alliance structure but has built a web of mutually beneficial relationships and partnerships, across the world on the basis of mutual trust and co-operation. Challenges faced by India in the process of development have not been easy but yet solutions were found and progress was made. Navigating foreign relations from the Cold War period to a post-Cold War phase of a unipolar world and to the contemporary multi-polar world, required great dexterity with difficult choices to be made at every stage.
6. India faced several external challenges -legacy issues of partition, wars and conflicts with its northern and western neighbors, and relentless state-sponsored terrorism. When India conducted its nuclear tests – Pokhran II, there was a strong backlash from many countries but today it is accepted as a responsible nuclear power. It is a member of MTCR, Australia Group and Wassenaar Group. India’s membership to the Nuclear Suppliers Group has been kept pending for nearly 7 years, more due to political considerations, rather than its credentials, but India looks forward to joining the Group.
7. In 1991, India faced deep economic crisis. It led to a process of liberalisation and opening of the economy. There was increasing emphasis on economic and commercial diplomacy to support India’s domestic growth. India was successful in addressing its economic difficulties as evident in that it was included in the G-20 Group of Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors when the Asian Financial Crisis took place in 1997-98. Thereafter, it was under the shadow of the 2008 international financial and banking crisis that the first G20 Summit was held. Today, with the global economy in a crisis, faced with volatility, uncertainty and instability, the role of G-20 assumes greater importance. This year India will be the Chair of G-20. India’s G-20 priorities shall be shaped in consultation not only with G-20 partners but also with the Global South. Voice of the Global South Summit in which 125 countries participated was recently convened by India to better understand the aspirations of developing countries. This is the first time that a G-20 Presidency undertook such an exercise.
8. India is a member of grouping like G-20, SCO, BRICS, Commonwealth etc. As Chair of SCO this year the conversation will be important to understand the perspective of the East and for India, to even act, as a bridge as East-West differences widen. In addition, India is increasingly engaging in group formats with ASEAN, Central Asia, BIMSTEC, Africa, EU, Nordic countries, CELAC, Pacific Islands, Caribbean countries. Partnerships like Quad, IPEF and 12U2 have taken shape adding to the scope and possibilities of collaboration with member countries.
9. India’s first priority is the Neighbourhood First policy, followed by Act East, Extended Neighbourhood in Central Asia and Think West which has deepened ties with the Gulf countries and with Arab countries – President Al- Sisi will be the Chief Guest during this year’s Republic Day celebrations. We have strategic partnerships with several countries including with 4 of the 5 members of the UN Security Council.
10. Being a sub-continent, India has both continental and maritime aspects to its foreign policy. With the Indo-Pacific becoming an increasing important and contested region, India articulated its vision and in 2019 Prime Minister Modi proposed the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPO) which outlines India’s collaborative effort to better manage, conserve and sustain the maritime domain with practical cooperation under 7 pillars. IPOI allows India to engage with its Indo-Pacific partners either bilaterally, or on plurilateral and multilateral platforms. A safe, stable and secure maritime domain; free and open sea lanes of communication and a rule-based order is critical for nations, like India, which are dependent on these oceans for their trade flows and economic growth. In the Indian Ocean region, India has been a net security provider and first responder working closely with IOR countries on anti-piracy patrols; pollution control, maritime search and rescue operations; joint exercises, etc.
11. India has been setting the narrative and bringing a positive agenda to the table. India is active in shaping the global discourse on connectivity and maritime security, resilient and reliable supply chains, data and cyber-security and terrorism. Similarly, in the context of climate change, India has taken initiatives like International Solar Alliance and Coalition for Disaster Resilient infrastructure even as it has as a developing country emphasised the common but differentiated responsibility and equity principles as agreed in the UNFCC. During the COVID Pandemic, India’s supply of medicines and vaccines and deployment of teams abroad spoke volumes about its internationalism. The Vaccine Maitri has earned us great goodwill across geographies.
12. As a developing country, India has benefited from international co-operation for example in setting up of IITs. India on its part has been forthcoming in sharing its experiences. India been supporting capacity building in developing countries through ITEC, lines of credit, grant assistance etc. Its development assistance is based on consultations with partner countries and their needs.
13. India was founder member of the United Nations and since 1950 it has been contributing towards peace keeping operations. UN has played a role with the passage of time but the fact is, that today multilateralism is in need for reforms. UN is 75 years old and the WTO 28 years ago. There is a wide spread, felt need for effective and inclusive global governance structure.
14. The post-Cold war period was a period of intense globalisation when significant expansion of interdependencies and interconnectedness of economies was taking place. Globalization is under reconsideration as it failed to lift all, leaving so many behind. It needs to be re-shaped to be made human-centric globalization. Moreover, the factors of globalization –movement of capital and trade - are today being weaponized? The need for rules-based order is needed more than ever today.
15. Another aspect of India’s foreign policy relates to its diaspora is which is one of the oldest and, indeed, one of the largest diasporas in the world with approximately 32 million people of Indian origin. India’s approach to its diaspora is characterized by 4Cs - Care, Connect, Celebrate and Contribute - to take care of their welfare, connect them to their roots, celebrate their achievements and their contributions to India’s development.
16. India’s foreign policy is addressing issues impacting its citizens more effectively and with speed. From passport delivery to evacuation of its citizens, most recently during COVID from across the world and from Afghanistan, to concluding Migration and Mobility partnerships and addressing the educational interests of students. All these have very much become a subject of focus for foreign policy.
17. Today, the world is still crippling with the impact of COVID 19 Pandemic as well as fears of inflation, public debt and recession. Strategic contestation among global powers has sharpened. Ukraine crises added to geo-political fissures, with very wide and far-reaching consequences for global energy and food security. In these very challenging times, this Conference is designed to deliberate and reflect on various aspects of Indian Foreign Policy, look at not only the current challenges but also at India’s foreign policy in the coming decades.