29 October 2021 14:25:27 IST

‘India needs partner with the West on its own terms’

Prof C Raja Mohan of NUS discussed India’s bilateral ties with the US in Foundation Day talk at IIMB

Speaking at the 48 th Foundation Day of IIM Bangalore, Prof C Raja Mohan, Director, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore, said: “As the interface between India and the West grows by leaps and bounds, across a broad range of areas, the current generation has an unprecedented opportunity to become a two-way bridge between the two worlds. Building that bridge will be intellectually satisfying, professionally rewarding and financially appealing. I am sure many of the students of IIM Bangalore will be on that bridge, transforming the societies on both ends and building a powerful strategic partnership between India and the West.”

The Foundation Day celebrations also saw Long Service Awards being presented to faculty, including the 10 years’ and 20 years’ awards. Long Service Awards were also presented to non-teaching IIMB staff, both permanent and contract employees, which included the 10 years’, 30 years’ and the 40 years’ Service awards. The IIMB community of faculty, former faculty, students, staff and alumni were part of the digital event.




Prof Mohan’s talk explored the implications of India's expanding engagement with the US and its allies in Europe and Asia — economic, political and security domains, and the growing prominence of the West in the nation’s international relations. In his talk, he reviewed the changes in India’s engagement with the US, analysed the developments in India’s ties with Britain and Europe, and discussed India’s role in the world.

What is geopolitics

"Geography is not just about the physical characteristics of a place. A number of other factors — demographic, economic, technological, political and ideological dimensions — change the nature of geography. When we talk of geopolitics today, we are then talking not just about geography but about a broad range of factors that shape the politics among nations,” he explained.

The term ‘West’ as a political concept, he pointed out, means that a few nations in the West exercise great influence on world politics. It would seem entirely natural that India has good relations with the West, including the US. But, it is only a recent evolution. “Although India had bilateral relations with the individual countries of the West, it was totally reluctant to join them in groups. The 1970s saw India drift away from the West. India’s new readiness to participate in Western forums marks a decisive turn in independent India’s world view that was long defined by the idea of non-alignment and its later avatar as strategic autonomy, both were about standing apart if not against the post-War Western alliances.”

But the story of India’s international relations over the last three decades has been one of a slow but definitive movement towards political reconciliation between India and the West and growing cooperation with the United States and its allies, he added, highlighting India's recent participation in various alliances like Quad, Five Eyes, and G7 meetings.

“While both Delhi and Washington deny that the Quad is a military alliance, it could certainly take India closer than ever before to a security coalition with the West. If India shunned alliances in general, it was even more reluctant to be part of the Western ones; but the idea of Indian participation in looser coalitions of various kinds with different Western countries is no longer taboo in Delhi.”

Beyond the US: Britain and Europe

His talk also touched upon India’s change in foreign policy in terms of strengthening ties with the European Union. “While improving relations with the United States gained traction quickly in the 21st century, moving forward with Britain and Europe was a lot harder. Although Britain and Europe have had a longer and more intimate relationship with India, the problem lay in the colonial past of Britain and Europe. However, Delhi is now strengthening security cooperation with Britain and Europe within the framework of Indo-Pacific geography. Delhi is also seeking free trade agreements with London and Brussels."

"India’s attitude towards Europe has evolved since the end of the Cold War as it opened up its economy to European capital and technology, sought to revitalise political engagement with the world’s major economies, and diversified its security partnerships. India aims to leverage enduring British strengths for national development, take advantage of the post-Brexit British ambitions for a global role, and find practical ways to better the dynamic between the domestic politics of the two countries,” he said.

India's potential

Prof Raja Mohan went on to say that one of the enduring concerns in the Indian foreign policy discourse has been the fear that drawing close to the US and the West will undermine India's independent foreign policy and strategic autonomy. “Although that fear might have been somewhat true in the early years of independence, today India is the third largest economy in PPP terms. Its GDP has already overtaken that of France, is level with Britain and could overtake Germany's by the end of this decade.”

“India is also the third largest spender on defense and has one of the world's largest armed forces. Together with the large size of its market, India is now in a position to negotiate relations with other major powers on reasonable terms. As it sheds the small-nation syndrome and imagines itself as part of the great power constellation shaping the world, India's foreign policy must inevitably be different from that of a new nation in the middle of the 20 th century. India today can and will be a partner for the US and the West on its own terms. It is that self-confidence that is driving India to solidify the strategic partnership with the West.”

“For many of my generation, the West was about escaping the lack of opportunities in India. At home, many saw it as ‘brain drain’. Today, the movement of professionals is seen as ‘brain gain’ and a powerful boost to the modernisation of India,” he added.