The ‘India pole’ in international politics – Recognizing India’s Unique Role in International Relations | 23rd November 2022 | UPSC Daily Editorial Analysis

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What's the article about?

  • It talks about India's unique position in international relations.


  • GS2: Effect of Policies and Politics of Developed and Developing Countries on India’s interests: India's Foreign Policy;
  • Essay

What's the crux of the article?

  • In International relation, the global politics can be of three types: Unipolar, Bipolar and Multipolar.
  • Unipolar means there is only one dominant superpower in the world. e.g., USA between 1991-2009
  • Bipolar means there are two superpowers in the world. e.g., USSR and USA between 1945-1991.
    • In such a bipolar world, other countries are generally forced to take the side of either superpower.
    • But India chose to remain non-aligned throughout the bipolar phase.
    • Note that “non-aligned” is not the same as “staying neutral”. Non-alignment is not neutrality, but the ability to take a position on a given issue on a case-by-case basis.
  • Multipolar means there are more than two superpowers in the world. e.g., the present world.
    • India is an advocate of the multipolar world.
  • Now, due to the Ukraine-Russia conflict, the world is again divided into two parts. India chose to stay non-aligned. But India is being constantly asked to choose a side.
  • In this article, the writer argues that India is itself a unique pole, and thus it is unwise to ask India to choose a side.

Why is India a unique pole and not a mere side?

  • The origins of this thought can be found in the character of the country’s long struggle for independence; the pre and post-Independence articulations of leaders such as Jawaharlal Nehru, Gandhiji, and Bal Gangadhar Tilak among others on international politics.
  • The primacy India inherited as the legatee state of the British empire in South Asia.
  • India’s larger than life civilisational sense of self.
  • The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) experiment, have all contributed to India’s desire for a unique foreign policy identity and a voice in the comity of nations.
  • For much of its modern independent history, India’s foreign policy has been a unique experiment.
  • Thus, Indian policymakers, notwithstanding the relative material incapacity of the state, inherently think of themselves as a pole in the international system.

What is Non-Aligned Movement (NAM)?

  • The NAM was formed during the Cold War as an organization of countries that did not seek to formally align themselves with either the United States or the Soviet Union, but sought to remain independent or neutral.
  • It traces its origins to the discussions that took place at the Asia-Africa Bandung Conference, held in Indonesia in 1955.
  • It was founded and held its first conference (the Belgrade Conference) in 1961 under the leadership of Josip Broz Tito of Yugoslavia, Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, Jawaharlal Nehru of India, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, and Sukarno of Indonesia.
  • During the cold war era the NAM played a vital role in stabilizing the world order and preserving peace and security.
  • Non alignment of NAM doesn't mean the neutrality of state on global issues, it was always a peaceful intervention in world politics.

What does being a pole mean for India?

  • India believes it has a strategic periphery in South Asia where it has a natural claim to primacy.
  • India discourages interference by other powers in that space.
  • India often tends to speak for ‘underprivileged collectives’, physical (South Asia) or otherwise (NAM, developing nations, global south, etc. in varying degrees).
  • India welcomes the rule of law and regional order.

Way Forward:

  • Notwithstanding the geopolitical difficulties that India faces today, India is a pivotal power in the Indo-Pacific and beyond, with an ability to help tackle security, climate and other challenges of global consequence.
  • Western powers must, therefore, treat India as a partner rather than as a cheerleader.
  • As India becomes the chair of the G20 and the SCO in 2022, it will further seek to assert itself as a major pole in the international system, and dissuade demands to follow one camp or another. Therefore, those wishing to work with India on the global stage must learn to deal with the ‘India pole’.

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