'Indian foreign policy taking economics-first stance'

Nitin Pai, founder of the think-tank Takshahila Institution, and MP Jairam Ramesh at the launch of the book 'Values in Foreign Policy' in Bengaluru recently.

In a bid to match growing Chinese power, India’s foreign policy is embracing a more economics-first stance even as the Modi government controversially pushes nationalism as a means to unify the nation into a Hindu powerhouse.

But it was not always like that, argues Krishnan Srinivasan, a former foreign secretary whose new book ‘Values in Foreign Policy’ was launched here recently.

In the years following India’s independence in 1947, its ambassadors quickly found that their brand of diplomacy lacked the propagation of “values” and liberal ideals, which is the hallmark of Western diplomacy, Srinivasan explained.

“In contrast, the West and the United States tirelessly speak about their values,” he said, explaining that this was a legacy of imperialism, which downplayed Eastern virtues.

However, with the growing clout of Asian markets in the world, Asians have become less inclined to accept the idea of diplomacy being able to work under benign Western hegemony. But they, nevertheless, lack an effective central theme of values to export to the rest of the world, said dignitaries gathered for the book launch.

“The modern Chinese state has no value to push to the world, their focus is on projecting power,” Jairam Ramesh, Rajya Sabha member, told DH.

That has placed immense pressure on India to play catch-up, Ramesh added, prompting India to embrace the idea “that the economy trumps everything; the idea that only 8% economic growth counts.”

It is a pressure that has made India do things that could be counterproductive in the long run, said Nitin Pai, founder of Takshashila Institution.

Among those is the “hyper narrative of nationalist Indians,” which Pai described an extremely dangerous trend, which will not only affect Indians abroad but also within.

“Imagine if Bangladesh’s Sheikh Hasina comes to Bengaluru and we see 20,000 Bangladeshis in Chinnaswamy stadium, screaming at the top of their voices in support of her. How are we then going to view Bangladeshis?” he asked.

He said Modi’s aspiration for Hindutva would actually create an impression of the Indian diaspora, whose true loyalties lie only with India.

“Now, we have exposed Indians to this backlash. What we have seen so far is the first half of the movie. The second half is going to be dangerous,” he said.

Ramesh said the future will be dominated by China as an economic powerhouse and the US as a military superpower. India’s soft power - its non-conditional offers of aid, stability, and freedom, remains attractive for the world, he said.

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