India: Navigating a contested geopolitical landscape

A recent address (November 11,2015) by Shyam Saran, one of India’s distinguished diplomats, at the Lowy Institute for International Policy, Sydney, Australia outlines a panoramic perspective of ‘how India looks at the world around’. According to Saran, two events viz. the partition of the subcontinent in 1947 and the annexation of Tibet by China in 1950 have ‘imparted a complex dimension to India’s efforts to resolve its subcontinental dilemma, particularly with the emergence of a hostile Sino-Pakistan strategic alliance which also has a nuclear dimension.’

He views Indian subcontinent and the ocean space around it as a single geopolitical possessing a ‘strategic singularity’. Notwithstanding an absence of a shared security perception amongst the constituent sovereign states of the region he feels ‘India’s strategic compulsions are still defined by subcontinental imperatives.’ He therefore advocates using ‘a mix of political, security, and economic and cultural policies to create a dense web interdependencies which, over time, lead to the alignment of security perspectives with that of India.’ Underlying objective of such a composite approach, in his view, would be to ‘transcend borders, not to erase them and transform a contested space into enjoying relative harmony and a broad political consensus.’

Tracing India’s journey since Independence under Nehru’s stewardship to the modern era, Saran refers to discernible shifts in recent years of the centre of the global economy towards the Asia-Pacific even as ‘the International financial and banking sector continue to be anchored in the West and operates according to the rules of the game evolved in West over a considerable period of time.’

Drawing attention to impact of technology, he mentions how ‘national or regional boundaries provide no barriers to the swift spread of information and disinformation affecting markets, societies and therefore, inter-state relations.’ He opines that ‘States with significant capabilities in these domains will have an advantage in navigating the emerging geopolitical terrain.’

He foresees no early transformation of ‘adversial relations’ with China and Pakistan. While envisaging India’s ‘major preoccupations’ to remain focused on its ‘immediate and extended neighbourhood’, he predictably views its engagement with other major powers will make positive impact in managing its neighbourhood. He ends his speech on an optimistic note about India’s global future albeit with a with a few cautionary riders.

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The text is reproduced courtesy Lowy Institute of International Policy, Sydney, Australia.

(Shri Shyam Saran is a former Foreign Secretary of India and former Chairman of the National Security Advisory Board, Government of India. He is currently with the Lowy institute, Australia as ‘2015 Telstra Distinguished International Fellow’.)