India's foreign policy a saga of commitment to universal moral values

India had to gear its foreign policy to play its desired role in international relations while maintaining its strategic autonomy and commitment to universal ideals and moral values

Prof. Sudhanshu Tripathi Oct 27, 2021
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PM Modi speaking at UN

India’s foreign policy occupies a distinguished place in international relations due to its persistent commitment and adherence to eternal and universal moral values. That reflects its overall peace-loving and humanitarian outlook which largely underscores the salient characteristics of both Western & non-Western intellectual traditions. Western or Eurocentric intellectual tradition largely lays stress over actual human endeavors in this world for securing all-round worldly pleasures and material gains. It is so particularly because most of the people in the modern age consider themselves as the products of enlightenment.

And that prompts them to believe that human life can be improved through struggle and hard work under the direction of worldly physical forces and verifiable knowledge, promoting materialism or having an inclination towards material pleasures. This rationalization underscores the utmost necessity of earnest efforts for securing one’s overall progress and prosperity. But this rational approach does not provide a reasonable and due space for taking into account a few non-empirical or unverifiable facts like spiritual or metaphysical aspects and extra-mental consciousness.

Because these are supposed to influence outward rationalist commitments of an individual to a reasonable extent, going by common perception and firm beliefs of psychologists. But the rationalist participation has led to excessive materialism, secularism, atomism and mechanization of socio-cultural life during preceding decades resulting in a kind of cultural and religious privatization. That has unfortunately marred their homely feelings of closeness and generosity with each other or unity, fraternity, group identity, solidarity and social harmony, selflessness, contributions towards the society and even supreme sacrifice unto the state.

In fact, the nurturing, protection and promotion of the cultural identity do assume common cultural traits of Western or Eurocentric intellectual traditions and they act as a foundation upon which the European nations and states have evolved for ages and continue to do so, despite being offshoots of the state action in any way whatsoever. 

Whereas non-Western or non-Eurocentric intellectual traditions, including that of Tibetan, Japanese, Chinese, Manchurian, Korean, Indian, African, Islamic, Jewish, Latin American, Native American, etc., acknowledge rationalist commitments to work in this temporal world for progress and prosperity, yet they fail to remain aloof from the reflectivist manifestations of many unanswered realities so far as they do converge over the fact of non-empirical accounts with respect to some of the fundamental truths in search of exploring the actual cause of a  worldly phenomenon in this mundane world.

Centuries-old ideological clashes

As a matter of fact, the ideological clashes between liberal-democratic and autocratic-authoritarian intellectual traditions are centuries-old. Indeed, they may be found to lie deep into the struggle for establishing freedom and democracy for the masses against the prevailing powerful monarchical political systems, especially during the closing decades of the middle century and the arrival of the modern age in Europe. This clash for securing the liberal-democratic political order was accompanied by the emancipation of the masses from the centuries-old custom of slavery.

In fact, those were the days when kings were regarded as incarnations of god on earth. Such divine authority was obviously above popular criticisms as the masses had to just obey the commands of the king in all sincerity. Similarly, the social, economic and religious systems also sought complete subordination of common masses during those days in Europe. While social hierarchies marked bitter inequalities among different sections of society, economic guilds virtually enslaved all the working classes and so did the all-powerful Church. Because the Church virtually ruled over them with full might during earlier centuries of the middle ages.

Thus the common populace was the worst sufferer as they had to endure all kinds of humiliation, loot, plunder, or even brutal killings at the hands of nobles, knights, lords, and other higher echelons of the ruling classes, elites and upper-class citizenry, including the church authorities, like popes and other church fathers. 

Obviously, the sole concern of these hapless lots was to come out of the yoke of the inhuman slavery, despotism and all other kinds of exploitation, oppression and suppression that had turned them as a wretched lot - or the proletariat in Marxist terminology - in the then European society. In fact, the background history of the French Revolution in the 18th century truly depicts these glaring inequalities and evils prevailing therein and almost the same condition prevailed in most parts of the Anglo-European societies during those days.

As European societies had undergone twice through the course of renaissance and reformation - first in 13th AD century in Italy and the second in 17th AD century in Britain - causing rapid growth of science and technology and leading to massive industrialization and large-scale production of common man’s commodities, that indeed engendered socio-economic progress and prosperity and also rising individual and social awareness towards one’s self, society and also state. This further aroused feelings of nationalism and solemn subservience and duty towards the state demanding liberty, equality, fraternity and also participation in the entire state affairs of governance.

Onset of colonialism

While the rising popular demands for all welfare services turned the state into a welfare organization, the emerging logic of capitalism propelled the European states to go in search of raw materials and markets to sell their finished products as their markets were already flooded with huge production of commodities. 

Hence, this expanding capitalism resulted in the onset of colonialism when the European trading companies like Dutch, Portuguese, French and East India Company of Britain virtually took over the entire political and administrative control of their host countries, spreading over to the larger continents of Asia, Africa and Latin America, altogether characterized  as the "Third World" or underdeveloped or developing countries.

These countries were very rich in terms of natural resources and also had dense populations, offering a large market and that served the very reason for advancing capitalism behind the consequent veil of imperialism all over the Anglo-European world. In fact, this drive to secure economic interests of the Anglo-European world at the cost of the economic ruin of the developing world resulted in violence and various other forms of exploitation altogether constituting the very logic for the dominant western industrialized nations’ supremacy and hegemony over the Third World.

All these developments have had their adverse yet indelible impacts upon India’s evolving socio-political psyche and such cultural ethos which altogether is strictly committed to Truth, Peace, Justice, Non-violence, etc., and never accepted injustice and oppression & suppression of the weaker-sections, either in national or international society. Hence they put bold imprints upon independent India’s foreign policy which reflected into its foundational principles as peace & cooperation, non-violence, non-alignment, etc. 

But behind the garb of all these noble ideals, there was the deep-seated desire for strategic autonomy in decision-making in international politics and relations. This the country has always aspired for even prior to independence due to its continental size and huge population with an abundance of flora and fauna and natural resources, superscribed by the rich ancient cultural tradition and cosmopolitan heritage. 

Thus ideological contradictions as manifested in different social, political and economic dimensions following ideological diversities continue to drive a deep wedge between them thereby influencing their national foreign policies. And India, like many other countries, is no exception as it had to gear its foreign policy to play its desired role in international relations as well as global affairs to protect its national interests while maintaining its strategic autonomy and commitment to universal ideals and moral values. 

Indeed these unparalleled cultural traits in Indian culture characterized by peace, love, compassion, benevolence, non-violence, tolerance, humanism and cosmic vision are rare attributes not much seen in other cultures of the world.

They emphasize internal as well as an external balance of the self and also harmony with a sense of belongingness with all living or non-living entities and also among themselves. In fact, India’s foreign policy still upholds all these noble ideas into practice while interacting with other states in the world and that creates a kind of confusion among leaders and policymakers who adhere to realism and discard soft policies in their international relations and conduct of global affairs.

(The writer is a professor of political science at MDPG College, Pratapgarh (Uttar Pradesh), India. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at sudhanshu.tripathi07@gmail.com)