INFA Column


M.L. Sondhi
July 29, 1971

(Former M.P., Mr. M.L. Sondhi discusses in two articles the position of India in world politics.  In the first article he deals with this problem in the global setting and in his next article with the role of Indian diplomacy in the Bangladesh crisis.)

A deep-rooted habit of Indian political life is that while on the domestic scene, a real and significant power struggle is understood as a criterion for future developments in the various fields of domestic policy, the attitude to the international political situation is quite dissimilar.  There is a marked tendency to limit the role of power in aspirations and goals of nation-states.  More than once, Indian policy makers have been caught by surprise on discovering the effects of some subtle power struggle which deprived India of the solid political support which it expected.

Psychologically, Indian policy makers have found it difficult to bring new situations into perspective, and on many focal questions, India has missed historic opportunities for positive formulations in world politics, and for developing partnership on common interests.  This is because she has been clinging to some conception of fidelity and honour, which afterwards proved to be of ephemeral importance, and placed India in a position which was passive, negative and peripheral.

In conflict situations like those of Korea, Berlin, Congo, Cuba and Indo-China, there was a process of interaction between the Super powers which released them from the rigid strategic perceptions, which in the beginning were the hallmark of their cold war confrontation. What was needed on India’s part was a readiness to scrutinise the complex decisions and actions of the USA and the USSR to detect shifts in their interaction patterns.  The Indian attitude of exaggerating the mediatory role between the Super powers was hardly a promising basis for a role of political realism outside the cold war.

The anxiety to maintain a historic foreign policy for fear of the reproach of having deviated from the Nehru heritage goes to the very core of India’s inability to enhance its diplomatic effectiveness in the new situations in which significant political developments are visible.

Nuclear Disarmament.  Mr. Brezhnev’s proposal for a conference of the five nuclear powers, the Soviet Union, United States, Britain, France and China, is an instance of a specific attempt to measure the new world nuclear situation in the context of Communist China’s development of strategic nuclear missiles.  This approach seriously limits the effectiveness of India’s working ideas on the basis of which it subscribed to the Nuclear Test Ban treaty.  India will obviously have to reappraise attitude on nuclear disarmament.

European developments.   West Germany’s Ostpolitik, the renewed British dialogue with the European Economic Community, and the comprehensive efforts for the proposed European Security conference, have registered meaningful gains, and as a result European nations harbour greater ambitions in the world setting.  Indian policy makers depending on the historic relationship with Britain and the Commonwealth are yet to get down seriously to the task of developing relations with “Europe” and get disentangled from the airy-fairy abstractions of the Commonwealth.

Sino-American Détente.   The efforts of the United States to normalise its relations with Peking, symbolised by the Nixon invitation to visit Peking are not a sudden volte face but are based on a rationality of political accommodation in the new international environment.  India’s attention has been focussed on the single issue of the border dispute with Peking, but if India is not to be overtaken by events, Indian diplomacy must show greater tactical flexibility. 

Japan’s Breakthrough.  The Soviet Union, United States and Communist China are in the process of determining new political equilibria with Japan, whose growing economic, political and military influence is a key dynamic element in the Asian and world environment.  In contrast, India has yet to gain a better perspective of her future relations with Japan.

Soviet Globalism.  The Soviet build-up in the Indian Ocean and in the Mediterranean are compatible with the latest Soviet interpretation of its vital interests as a Super Power.  The enlargement of Soviet commitments has important consequences for world politics in the future.  Indian policy makers still express a nostalgia for the intimate and exclusive dialogue in the Krushchev period, and there is a lack of realistic acceptance of the new circumstances of Soviet diplomacy and its wider global strategy.

The starting point for a reconstruction of India’s international relations must be a purposeful effort to identify each of these five elements in the shifting balance of the power which will then provide guidelines for stabilising India’s relations with the world powers.  The special priority in Indian foreign policy can no longer be in the direction of our playing the “honest broker” between the Soviet Union and the United States.  Nor does it help India to strengthen its diplomatic resources, if Indian foreign policy seeks to gain a “hawkish” appearance in the context of problems of neo-colonialism and other aspects of the north-south conflict.  At the Lusaka Conference, India’s political efforts were directed towards creating a new unity of the non-aligned on the basis of a common resentment against burdensome big power dominance.

Mrs. Gandhi told the meeting of the difficulties faced by India and the other countries attending the conference:  “The big powers have never accepted the validity of nonalignment.  Neither colonialism nor racialism has vanished. The old comes back in new guise.  There are subtle intrigues to undermine our self- confidence and to sow dissensions and mutual distrust amongst us.  Powerful vested interests, domestic and foreign, are combining to erect new barriers of neo-colonialism.  These dangers can be combated by our being united in our adherence to the basic tenets of non-alignment.”  In fact, the development of the crisis in Bangla Desh underlines the catastrophic results which flow from “the subtle intrigues” which Mrs. Gandhi condemned at Lusaka.  The evidence available, however, suggests that it is the non-aligned countries themselves, who have been dictated by their narrow political needs and have been in no hurry to “unite” in “adherence to the basic tenets of nonalignment” and contribute to a new order or peace and freedom in Bangla Desh.  The non-aligned companions of India are simply in no hurry for a settlement of Bangla Desh.

A significantly different prospect can, however, be fostered if the future possibilities following the emergence of Bangla Desh are closely related to a set of norms for restructuring regional relations in the direction of greater stability.  India has a great stake in the creation of a peace order in Asia, and the Prime Minister of India has on previous occasions, expressed the hope for a restoration of peace in the conflict-ridden areas through neutralisation.  At the operational level, India’s External Affairs Ministry seems to be talking at cross purposes with the chief policy maker of the Government.  The Prime Minister wants a withdrawal of the great powers from Asia and emphasises the dangers of relying on foreign guarantees, when she refers to problems of Indo-China or to the question of a vacuum in the Indian Ocean.  The External Affairs Minister would rather guide our diplomacy towards a greater involvement of the great powers in our region, when the main initiative should come from our own government for keeping them out.

The days of India’s activism among the non-aligned are evidently over.  The challenge of the future in global politics can only be met if India fully accepts the pluralistic context of the multi-polar world, and formulates sophisticated views on global détente.  This would require that Indian foreign policy should provide a new dimension of stabilisation and generate an influence peculiar to its own geographic and political position in Asia. 

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