Originally published as Jabin T. Jacob, “Rising India’s Foreign Policy: A Partial Introduction,” in D. Suba Chandran and Jabin T. Jacob (eds.), India’s Foreign Policy: Old Problems, New Challenges (New Delhi: Macmillan, 2011): 1-22.
Current Indian foreign policy is informed by a realization that a combination of economic reforms and the end of the Cold War has steered India into a position of some considerable influence in the post-9/11 world. This is influence of a kind that India did not have in the years following Independence. What India had then was a moral standing which it could make little use of, boxed in as it was by the contingencies of a Cold War division of the world. This division allowed very little leeway for the Indian policy of non-alignment, which ended up being not so much an alternative as a means of holding the line, until India could find itself in a more favourable geopolitical situation. Further, unlike in the post-Independence phase, India today often appears reluctant to exercise what influence it has outside South Asia and sometimes even within the region, keenly aware of the several continuing limits on its capabilities and having suffered from blowback on the few occasions it did, as was the case most tragically, in the assassination of former Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi.
Even as some old problems continue to keep India off-balance in international affairs, notably the issue of Kashmir, the world has also not stood still and new problems – both traditional and non-traditional – have emerged that have required India to step up and take a position on. These have included the fall of the monarchy and the ascension of the Maoists in Nepal in the immediate neighbourhood, the issue of Iran’s nuclear programme in the extended neighbourhood, and issues of global import such as climate change. And all this, even as the Indian foreign policy establishment remains woefully ill-equipped and understaffed to meet these challenges. What then are the patterns of Indian foreign policy behavior in the new century?