- India's Foreign Policy Transformation
Assessing India's evolution since 1980 is a compelling idea that has been executed with much competence by Sumit Ganguly and Rahul Mukherji in India Since 1980. The volume is part of a broader series of studies on a number of countries since 1980, but any study of India since 1980 offers special rewards. Many features of contemporary India find their origins in that decade. The first considerations of economic reform, the rumbling of the two great tectonic plates of caste and religion, outreach to the United States and China, the perception of India as a regional power, and India's launch of nuclear weapon and missile programs can all be traced back to the 1980s.
In the three decades since then, India's views of itself and the world, as well as the world's image of India, have undergone profound changes. The core concepts that defined India's political and economic development before this period—economic self-reliance, socialism, secularism, nonalignment, and third worldism—would be recast or come under great stress in the years that followed. Ganguly and Mukherji divide the story of India since 1980 into four different domains: the changing nature of its engagement with the world, the restructuring of India's economy, the new patterns of domestic political mobilization, and the challenges to the idea of secularism amid the rise of Hindu nationalism. In a volume of fewer than 200 pages, Ganguly and Mukherji deftly guide us through the labyrinth of India's dramatic transformation.
On the revolutionary changes in India's foreign policy, Ganguly and Mukherji rightly avoid the temptation to offer a comprehensive account. Their focus instead is on India's relations with two major powers (the United States and the Soviet Union/Russia), India's principal adversaries (Pakistan and China), and New Delhi's successful engagement with Southeast Asia as part of its mid-1990s initiative on "Looking East." The chapter on foreign policy also briefly touches on the nuclear question that consumed so much diplomatic and military energy during the last three decades.
Ganguly and Mukherjee delineate with ease the main lines of New Delhi's diplomatic activity in the three decades that followed 1980: [End Page 108]
The Cold War's end made it exceedingly difficult for India to continue with its policies of non-alignment and Third World solidarity. Yet structure alone cannot fully explain the changes that came about. Unless key individuals at critical junctures had chosen to undertake different pathways and seize opportune moments, India would have faced the distinct possibility of marginalization in the emergent global order(p. 55).
This assessment whets our appetite for more intensive analyses of the sources of change in India's foreign policy. Besides the Cold War's end, one other structural factor that compelled changes in India's foreign policy comes readily to mind: the collapse of India's economic model of state-led socialism at around the same time as the disintegration of the Soviet Union. The change in India's economic development strategy is fully detailed in another chapter of the book. In retrospect, India's decision to embark on economic liberalization and globalization had a far bigger impact on India's foreign policy than the end of the Cold War.
Whereas India's total merchandise trade in 1980 was $22 billion, it reached nearly $780 billion in 2011. Well before the mid-2010s, it will cross the consequential $1 trillion mark. Merchandise trade now accounts for more than 40% of the nation's GDP, which is a stunning transformation for a country that had consigned itself to the world's economic backwaters until 1991. India's growing economic muscle and the prospects for rapid growth are at the heart of the current international perception of India's rise as a potential great power.
On the foreign policy front, economic change has given India leverage to build more solid relations with the West, especially the United States, and to improve its international standing in the nuclear order. The reform process has also allowed India to reintegrate itself into the economic and political structures of East Asia.