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India's Non-Alignment - Not a Legacy Product

Multi-alignment or Hedging? 

"We cannot remain indifferent, and we will not remain indifferent, our policy is not one of indifference. Our policy is that there should be active efforts for world peace, and it should be given a firm foundation."

- Jawaharlal Nehru

The audacious post-war policy or philosophy of ‘non-alignment’, espoused by the leaders of newly decolonized nation-states during the 1950s has successfully undergirded the broader Indian foreign policy in the 21st century. A strategy wholly based on extending one’s national interest in the face of high-bloc politics, the idea of being non-aligned has brought benefits in gallons for the nation as it continues to walk the tightrope while securing its best interests. Nonetheless, it's a policy worth debating and exfoliating for there are chinks in this armour.  

India's Non-Alignment - Not a Legacy Product. "We cannot remain indifferent, and we will not remain indifferent, our policy is not one of indifference. Our policy is that there should be active efforts for world peace, and it should be given a firm foundation."  - Jawaharlal Nehru

Jawaharlal Nehru, during his tenure, made the bet on isolating the newly independent nation from the two power blocs that happened to emerge in the aftermath of World War II. This approach was further taken up by a plethora of what we today call the Global South nation-states. Over the years, India witnessed constant ebb and flow in its relationship with Washington and Moscow. The waters were tested when India went to war with China in 1962 and later with Pakistan in 1971. The Chinese belligerence prompted India to ask for US aid which it received decently. Claims are made that Nehru penned letters to the then President of the US John F. Kennedy pleading for multiple state-of-the-art fighter aircraft. Further, in the late 1960s India tilted towards Moscow and started importing defense equipment in the form of jet fighters, missiles etc. Not surprisingly, Pakistan being a US ally at that time, India pleaded to Russia for help during its military operation in East Pakistan. The treaty of peace, friendship and cooperation between the two was rushed and signed in 1971, through which India secured Russia’s written promise to involve itself in consultations over an attack on India and vice-versa. 

The aforementioned narrative testifies to India’s flexible foreign policy stance which aided it in acquiring the help of two superpowers in two different cases of aggression that threatened India’s security. Many claim the treaty with Moscow as a form of implicit alignment and decry India’s non-alignment character as a hypocritical one at worst and selfish at best. One needs to understand the fundamental character of an alignment to judge India’s indulgence with the superpowers during the Cold War epoch. An 'alignment', in geopolitical terms, basically implies the coming together of various nation-states with similar interests to act on the same. The formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1949 typifies alignment. The members called on to protect each other in the face of an external threat which was supposedly the Soviet Union during that time. The aims were crystal clear, and the member-states pledged their loyalty to a particular coterie at the cost of an independent policy stance which could sway on either side of the contemporary geopolitical landscape. In contrast, India did not pledge its loyalty to Moscow through that treaty and didn’t cut its ties with the US. The opportunity cost was not in the form of a partner as important as the US which had interests in countering China as a rising power in the Asian continent.

Eschew the Multi-Alignment Lexicon

Today, India continues to buy Russian oil in the ambiguous and sanguinary environment even as the collective West has imposed economic sanctions on the latter without being overtly lambasted by the US or any other Western country. Ukraine has communicated its thoughts in the form of frustration over India’s non-anti-Russian stance during this whole time, but India has diverted its focus on preserving its interests. India still imports more than 40% of its defense supplies from Russia although the percentage has reduced over the years while simultaneously inaugurating the initiative on critical and emerging technologies (iCET) with the US. As a part of the same, India will witness technology transfers in jet engines and a purchase of 31 MQ-9B drones worth $3 billion has also been finalized. The recent conclusion of the G20 summit with a consensus achieved on declaration without any brouhaha over the exclusion of scathing condemnation of Russia in the final document can also be perceived as a signal of India’s precisely driven policy of non-alignment as it was able to bring the world together which is currently bifurcated into two blocs.

However, India’s fine-tuned balancing of blocs has been draped in a soft cloth of ‘multi-alignment’ by many. As aforementioned, an alignment comes with an opportunity cost, often as a pledge of loyalty to a particular group of states against the other in geopolitics. India on the other hand has been sailing through Russian and American waters without losing its goodwill with either of its strategic partners while also leveraging its strength as a leader of the Global South. 

India through its virtue of being big and diverse in terms of its geography and demography has immense potential to independently pursue its goals in the international arena which would suit its interests without joining any camp. Hence, the modern transmogrification of non-alignment policy into multi-alignment is nothing more than a fancy change in lexicon which needs to be eschewed. A better and more appropriate term to explain India’s current foreign policy can be ‘hedging’, a common parlance in the financial space.  


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