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Changes in India's Foreign Policy Thinking

Professor Rajesh Rajagopalan, an international relations theory expert, talked about Indian foreign policy at Victoria University (19 September).

Domestic debate in India on foreign policy issues reveals a range of attitudes to the way India engages with the world and its international role, said Professor Rajesh Rajagopalan.

Professor Rajagopalan spoke to about 40 people, as the visiting chair of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, at Victoria University in Wellington.  The lecture was hosted by the Centre for Strategic Studies.

Professor Rajesh Rajagopalan

Professor Rajesh Rajagopalan

Professor Rajagopalan said there had been “very active debate” going on about Indian foreign policy for many years.  "At least 10 think tanks are devoted to it in New Delhi alone," he said.  But despite all the talk there was no “transmission belt” between those discussions and government. 

He outlined some of the reasons why this had occurred and described India's massive public service as being "highly insular", other than in the area of finance, and closed to outside influence.  “Most people join in their early 20s or 30s and never leave.” 

When there were weak governments the bureaucracy's view was often the “default position”, and coalition governments were also risk adverse.

A divergence of viewpoints in India had become more noticeable after the end of the Cold War. 

Traditional Indian Nationalists split into Standard Nationalists who favoured the status quo, Neo Nationalists who supported south-south solidarity and opposed India seeking a great power role, and Hyper Nationalists who were suspicious of the West and supported militarism.  Three other identifiable schools of thought existed:  Great Power Realists who promoted a pragmatic approach to foreign policy which kept ideology at arm’s length, Liberal Globalists, who wanted India to become a global economic player; and Leftists who opposed US hegemony.  These schools of thought were not reflected in particular agencies of government or think tanks, although some newspapers had more identifiable leanings. 

There were points of intersection between these groups.  Almost all would oppose the use of force in international affairs; many would oppose India signing arms control instruments; most opposed formal alliances.  There was considerable suspicion about China’s role, in particular in Pakistan; ambivalence about the US global role and its presence in Afghanistan; a tendency to favour closer ties with Iran; and a disinclination to support promotion of democracy in the region. 

In answer to a question about trade relations between New Zealand and India, Professor Rajagopalan said that Indian business was a very powerful group and they had been pushing the Government to encourage more international trade.  "I think under Manmohan Singh, who is pro-liberalisation, India is more open to trade than ever before."

The Professor also met with MFAT’s South Asia and South East Asia division and former Delhi post staff.  The discussion was very valuable, given the Ministry's focus on the NZ Inc India Strategy, and ranged from Indian politics to its policy towards its South Asian neighbours and India's own great power aspirations.

Google for more readings about Professor Rajagopalan and also search www.observerindia.com


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Page last updated: Tuesday, 11 October 2011 10:45 NZDT