New Delhi’s pursuit of regional hegemony continues to transform the country’s bilateral and many multilateral engagements. It has prompted two parallel processes with a united goal: becoming completely autonomous, benefiting from global networks and positioning itself as a regional power-breaker. Since its inception, India adopted a Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) to refrain from the influence of external actors and maintain an independent foreign policy. However, by the mid-2000s, the country recognized the importance of a multifaceted foreign policy having ingress with the different global power poles. This came as a thoroughly defined strategy to engage the US, EU, Australia, Japan and other prominent world actors to enable India to achieve its national interests while boosting its worldwide soft power.
New Delhi’s strategy to capitalize on relations with other countries was not confined to bilateral engagements. Instead, India used them to become part of many multilateral forums, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD); the G7 Meeting; Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS); the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and many others indicating an internationalist agenda. These participations enabled India to manage its bittersweet relations with China by trying to revamp the balance of power structures.
When asked about the country’s inclination towards either the US or China at the GLOBESEC 2022, Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar’s stated, “I don’t accept that India has to join either the US axis or China axis. I am one-fifth of the world’s population; I am today the fifth or sixth largest economy in the world, I mean, forget the history, civilization bit, everyone knows that I, think I am entitled to have my own side.” The theory of realism explains the statement in a very transparent manner. On the one hand, India portrays itself as the self-claimed “most reliable partner” for many countries. However, on the other hand, it continues to adopt an exclusive foreign policy to address the issue at hand. This enables New Delhi to safeguard its national interests and cover the laggings through foreign help.
India is shrewdly and silently moving on the grand chess board game, as being a QUAD member allows New Delhi to counter China’s growing influence. At the same time, being a part of SCO also confirms India’s economic partnership with China. Both countries have a two-way trade standing at $77.7 billion for 2020, and Beijing is also emerging as New Delhi’s largest trading partner. As a member of SCO, New Delhi has swiftly increased and strengthened its relations with the Central Asian Republics.
At a global level, due to a lack of preparedness, New Delhi is reluctant to accept a multipolar world order where Beijing becomes a leading authority in world affairs. For this, India has actively hedged against China by siding with the US and developing an array of agreements such as the Indo-US Defence Framework, the 123 Agreement, the Economic and Financial Partnership and dozens of sub-agreements underneath. However, the country also recognizes the importance of regional multipolarity and has attended to it with a calculated strategy. It has kept its ties alive with Moscow even after the Quad members pressed it to criticize Russia in the Ukraine War. Similarly, even with a large-scale confrontation with China, the Modi government managed the economic relations as a totally independent variable of the foreign policy approach.
With the end of the Cold War, the original distribution of power, specifically in the region of South Asia, was transformed. With the rise of China as one of the leading power poles, the former stakeholders (the US and Russia) were dislocated from South Asia – partially, if not entirely. This raised security concerns for India as one of its biggest supporters became passive. Fast forward to the present day, the global strategic realignments have reactivated power competition in many frozen zones affecting the geographical influence areas of India. Most of India’s partners are engaged in these areas, such as Russia, France, the US, Japan and others.
The ever-so burgeoning Pakistan – China relationship and their steadfastness in diplomatic, military and nuclear ties have discomforted India. The Pak-China partnership covers every aspect of foreign policy and its derivatives. Keeping all these concerns in mind, India has had its foreign policy designed in a way that focuses on neutral relations with extraordinary powers and economic development. The economic buttress acts as New Delhi’s spine and driver of growth for its “strategic autonomy” approach, defined as ‘the ability of a state to pursue its national interests and adopt its preferred foreign policy without being constrained by other states, in any manner.
India has become a source of stable economic development, host to most of the top global tech firms and an emerging hub of military equipment having cordial relations with the great powers. While New Delhi continues to grow, it has managed to tarnish Islamabad’s image in front of the world by lobbying through fake organizations, conducting subversions and espionage activities in the country and keeping the LoC activated to put a burden on Pakistan’s economy. Parallel to this, India has become the favourite kid of the US, Russia, France, Israel, Japan and many others. Indian strategy of putting its self-interest above that of its so-called strategic allies has been successful: the country exploits them for its needs while keeping them at bay when they require something.