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Friday, November 27, 2020

Explained Ideas: Four phases of Indian multilateralism

The consolidation of the Quad reflects the political will in Delhi to break free from old shibboleths and respond to the security imperatives, writes C Raja Mohan.

By: Express Web Desk | New Delhi | Updated: November 3, 2020 8:49:28 am
The annual Malabar exercises commenced on November 3. (Twitter/@indiannavy)

Australia’s participation in the annual Malabar exercises, kicking off this week in the Bay of Bengal, marks the emergence of the Quad as a new feature of the Indo-Pacific geopolitics.

“The consolidation of the Quad reflects the political will in Delhi to break free from old shibboleths and respond to the security imperatives. The post-Quad era opens a new phase in which India, for the first time, can help shape the global institutions,” writes C Raja Mohan, Director, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore, in an opinion column in The Indian Express.

annual Malabar exercise, Malabar exercise Malabar exercise india US, Quad meet, India china relations, India US relations, US elections Illustration by C R Sasikumar

Changing the world was indeed a major theme of newly independent India’s aspiration in the middle of the 20th century. But the gap between Delhi’s ambition and impact was large.

If idealism was the hallmark of India’s internationalism in the 1950s, the harsh politics of the Cold War quickly dampened it.

In the 1970s, India embraced the radical agenda of a New International Economic Order, as the leader of the Non-Aligned Movement and the Group of 77. The results were meagre.

The third phase began with the end of the Cold War, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the emergence of the unipolar moment and the Washington Consensus in favour of globalisation. And as India’s own economic model collapsed, Delhi had no option but to temper its political ambitions, put its political head down, focus on economic reform and prevent the world from intruding too much into its internal affairs.

While the imperative of growth demanded a greater engagement with the West, the fear of the US activism on Kashmir and nuclear issues saw Delhi turn to Russia and China in search of a “multipolar world” that could constrain American power.

The BRICS forum with Russia, China, Brazil and South Africa became emblematic of this strategy.

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Delhi soon found that differences with the US on Kashmir and nuclear issues were easing thanks to George W Bush’s policies. But Kashmir and nuclear question became part of India’s deepening territorial and political disputes with China.

Delhi also figured out that it was not possible for BRICS to constrain Beijing, since China was so much bigger than the other four members put together. As India’s focus inevitably shifted to the construction of a “multipolar Asia”, the Quad and its central role in constructing a stable balance of power in Asia became apparent. 📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram

“That brings us into the fourth phase in India’s multilateralism that is marked by three features — the relative rise in Delhi’s international standing, the breakdown of the great power consensus on economic globalisation, and the breakout of the US-China rivalry,” states Mohan.

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