Despite many changes, embedded in Indian foreign policy is the legacy of Jawaharlal Nehru. This heritage, even among those who are critical of Nehru, privileges emotion and reason over realism and national interest. Such a propensity cuts across political parties. It is evident in the position that India adopted towards the war in Iraq. The initial response of Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government was neither critical nor approving. The sitting on the fence was dictated by the special relationship that India and the United States of America had developed in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. But this changed subsequent to the massacre of the Kashmiri Pandits in March and the US administration’s advice to India to get back to the negotiating table with Pakistan. The process was completed when Parliament passed a resolution deploring the invasion of Iraq by the coalition forces. Criticism that was latent came out in the opinion after the resolution in Parliament. This criticism from the entire political class in India was not based on national interest but on emotion and ideology.
National self-interest would lead to a recognition that the realities of world politics have changed. Whether ideologues beating an antique drum like it or not, the US is the world’s supreme power. The end of the Cold War means that there is no other side. A knee-jerk anti-Americanism has no relevance in today’s realpolitik. This may not suit the ideological framework which determines Indian foreign policy, but this is the reality. If Indian politicians and foreign policy-makers climbed down from their ideological high horse and looked at what furthers India’s interests on the international chess board, they would change their priorities and their orientation. But this is too much to expect from leaders who, like India’s first prime minister, believe that the mouthing of pious sentiments will make India a player in the field of international relations. Emotional rejection of the US in global affairs can only lead to India’s marginalization. What India says and does are of no great consequence in any international forum. A foreign policy based on emotion can only lead to greater irrelevance.
The emergence of a unipolar world, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and socialism, has radically altered international relations. The conduct of the Iraq war has underlined this and has also shown the irrelevance of any kind of protest against US policy. There is no point in being morally squeamish about this. International relations knows only the play of power. It does not recognize morality and ideology. Thus might, military and economic, determines dominance in international relations. India’s interests thus lie in being on the right side of the world’s strongest power. This need not necessarily mean cravenness but it means the maximization of one’s interests. Nothing was furthered by India’s deploring of the US action in Iraq. India would have lost nothing by saying nothing. Despite this, Indian politicians, clinging to a Nehruvian emotionalism, went into overdrive. The harm done will take some hard work to repair.