A Different Kind of Non-Alignment


Image Credit: ANI


After the end of the Second World War, the ideological Cold War between the US and Russia emerged. Both the superpowers, the US and Russia were building strategies to maintain their sphere of influence throughout the World. This was when the idea of ‘Non-Alignment’ originated under the leadership of five leaders: Indian PM Jawaharlal Nehru, Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, Indonesian President Sukarno and Ghanian President Kwame Nkrumah. Although the rationale was different for different states, they all were united to reduce the risk of conflict between the hostile superpowers by keeping out of them in order to avoid any direct confrontation. The very use of the prefix, ‘non’ in the term, ‘non-alignment’ gave it a very negative connotation. Thus, there was a lot of negativity associated with it in the eyes of both the superpowers. Infact, the US Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles had called non-alignment as “immoral” and the Russian leader, Stalin was so critical of India that he had called India, “a running dog of British imperialism”. However, in response to a question by a journalist, the then Union Minister of India, Krishna Menon had said that even though non-alignment was a negative term but the way India used the term, made it positive.

Coming back to the present day, the same US-Russia rivalry is back in 2022 and India under PM Narendra Modi has decided to follow a similar policy pursued by Nehru during the Cold War and has decided to not take any side. This can be seen as a revival of Nehru’s worldview. But before drawing any conclusion, we must look into some motivations and reasons behind pursuing such a policy by both Nehru and Modi.


Reasons for India’s Non-Alignment under Nehru

The foreign policy objectives of the newly-independent India were based on the foundations of peace, equality and freedom from colonialism. The Cold War had resulted in the formation of military pacts in which even India’s enemy Pakistan was getting drawn into, this prompted India to stay away from both powers and pursue the policy of non-alignment in national interest. Nehru at that time had made it very clear that India would belong to only one camp, that of peace, cooperation and goodwill. He had differentiated between the terms ‘neutral’ and ‘non-aligned’. According to him, while being ‘neutral’ was only confined to war, being ‘non-aligned’ meant to stay away from power politics of groups aligned with each other. The result of this non-alignment policy had been that neither of the two blocs looked upon India with favour and instead believed India to be independent which could not be made to vote in their favour.


Reasons for India’s Non-Alignment under Modi

Until now, India has abstained from all the resolutions with regard to the Ukraine-Russia conflict either passed by the West or Russia. This can be viewed as a historical strategy to balance both the US and Russia while focusing on its own interests. There are some strong reasons for India to pursue the policy of non-alignment again in 2022. Firstly, the Indian economy itself is recovering after the fall owing to COVID-19 pandemic, it would not like to get involved in the conflict which might hamper its economic growth. Secondly, India needs to counter the threat from rising China as well as notorious Pakistan. Russia is the only powerful country in the current geopolitical setting which can support India in doing so, thus, India would not want to irk Russia by interfering in its so-called “Russian operation in Ukraine”. Another reason may be attributed to the fact that even though India is trying to diversify its defence imports, Russia still holds a sway of supplying over 49.4% of all defence imports from 2016-2020. Even though the Russian dependency is gradually decreasing, it is still a major exporter.


Also, considering the historical ties between Russia (former USSR) and India, the Soviet Russia had always supported India in the past, either diplomatically (by vetoing resolutions favourable to India dealing with Kashmir or Liberation of Goa) or militarily (during the India-Pakistan War), it is not fair for India to take a stance against Russia especially for a conflict which doesn’t lie in it’s own geographical neighbourhood. These reasons sufficiently describe India’s stand in the Ukraine-Russia conflict.


A Multi-Aligned India under Modi

Recently in a conference, the External Affairs Minister (EAM), S. Jaishankar had used the term “multi-alignment” to describe India’s engagement with all the major powers of the world simultaneously. A good example of this policy can be Australia’s recent statement that QUAD has accepted and understood India’s stance on Russia. This also means if any attempt is being made by the US to sanction India, it might turn to be futile. This clearly shows that India is not non-aligned but is in fact, multi-aligned with all the major powers in its own terms.


Also, one more important point to remember is that while ‘Non-Alignment’ was a Movement in the Nehruvian era, such a movement has lost its relevance in today’s world. That may also be the reason why PM Modi had shunned the previous two NAM summits after he became PM and only attended the recent virtual summit held in COVID-19 pandemic. He very pragmatically used this NAM summit to project India’s leadership capabilities. Given India’s current security paradigm, India can no longer afford to be ‘non-aligned’, rather it needs to be ‘multi-aligned’ in order to build its strength and capabilities.


Conclusion

India is now much stronger economically and geo-politically in order to have its own say in International Affairs. While governments and prime ministers keep changing, the national interest remains the same. Over the years, the Indian economy has witnessed several changes and has also been affected due to geo-politics and geo-economics surrounding India. It can be said that Modi is following the same basic principles of foreign policy as followed by Nehru and his other predecessors but with an upgrade. While Nehru’s foreign policy was centred towards ‘non-alignment’, Modi’s foreign policy is centred towards ‘multi-alignment’ and thus, keeps India at an advantage in the current international scenario.


{Prithvi Naresh Rathod is pursuing an MA in International Politics at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi}


The views expressed in this article are the author's alone.