India’s stand in multi-polar world and evolving approach in multilateral ties

India needed to choose carefully both for its national development. Loaded with the problem of integrating more than 500 princely states at the time of independence and subjected to a war by Pakistan just within two months of attaining the independence, India had its hands full and therefore was not inclined to join any of the two superpowers.

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Canadian PM Justin Trudeau greets Indian Prime Minister Narendra modi. (Photo: Reuters)

By Maj Gen Ashok Kumar, VSM (Retd)

The world is looking at India with awe. Not only at political and diplomatic levels, India has surged ahead economically to become the fifth largest economy of the world. Not only this, a country which had become  the third largest importer of the defence equipment in the world, has not only focused on the indigenous production of the defence equipment to meet its own defence needs but it has also planned major defence exports targeting Rs 35000 crore by the year 2025. It has already achieved defence exports close to 12000 crore in FY2022.

In addition to targeting an increased number of countries, the basket of exported items has also expanded substantially. Not only this, India’s emergence on the world stage has been taken note of by all the countries in the world. India’s stand in the multipolar world and evolving approach in multilateral ties needs to be analyzed critically as this is progressing in the positive direction despite multiple contractions present in the world ecosystem.

When the World War II ended in Sep 1945 after six years prolonged destruction the world over including dropping of two nuclear bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, two superpowers emerged – USA and USSR. It is incidental that both these countries were on the same side of the conflict during the terminal phase of the World War II which had engulfed more than 50 countries during the conflict duration While USA was the one superpower, had created NATO and was closely integrated with West European countries, USSR was the rival superpower, had created Warsaw pact with close integration of Eastern European countries. Large Number of countries, even outside NATO and the WARSAW pact, was aligned with one of these two blocks.

India at this juncture after becoming independent on August 15 1947 chose to be part of the Non Aligned Movement (NAM). In fact, India was one of the prime architects of NAM which had its origins in the 1947 Asian Relations Meeting held in New Delhi. It was Indian belief that the underdeveloped and developing countries need to focus on their development and well- being of their people rather  than being part of one of these two superpower blocks. It was aimed to achieve a certain degree of independence and come to the aid of each other. It is beside the point that NAM could not become an effective grouping in the conflict of the member countries, a situation which continues till date.

India needed to choose carefully both for its national development. Loaded with the problem of integrating more than 500 princely states at the time of independence and subjected to a war by Pakistan just within two months of attaining the independence, India had its hands full and therefore was not inclined to join any of the two superpowers. While India successfully integrated princely states including armed intervention in Junagadh and Hyderabad, it attempted peaceful integration of Goa through dialogue with Portuguese which did not succeed and led to armed intervention in 1961 to get Goa, Daman & Diu as part of India.

In the meantime, India was attempting to develop healthy relations with PRC with which it signed the Panchsheel agreement in 1954 and made resonance with ‘Hindi-Chini Bhai-Bhai’ as part of their mutual ecosystem. China, however, backstabbed India and attacked in 1962 to grab a large part of our territory, a substantial portion of which it occupies till date. After this experience with China in 1962, Indian approach started undergoing subtle change with enhanced focus on military modernization as well as looking at its relations with superpowers differently without being part of any exclusive security alliances. While USA, UK and the West started arming Pakistan, India was left with no option but to rely on the USSR for procurement of bulk of its Defence equipment.

The USA and West had armed Pakistan with advanced weaponry which was comprehensively used in the 1965 War. Though India defeated Pakistan but agreed to USSR brokered peace for termination of hostilities. The 1966 Agreement of Tashkent was also signed by the USSR. Not only this, Pakistan fell in the lap of the USA  led western world while Indian dependence on the USSR increased on multiple counts to include supply of defence  equipment as well as support in international organizations  including UNSC and critical support in war fighting. The last credible support was executed during the 1971 war wherein USSR came forward to checkmate the seventh Fleet of USA by deploying two groups of cruisers and destroyers in addition to a nuclear armed submarine. The ‘Peace and Friendship’ Treaty signed by USSR and India in 1971 brought India much closer to USSR as against being neutral and equidistant from both the super powers.

There were only two superpowers till 1991 when USSR was disintegrated resulting in the birth of multiple nations with Russia being the most important and powerful part of erstwhile USSR. While Russia continued to be counted as a superpower, the cold war ended and in a real sense, the USA emerged as a single super power. It took more than a decade when Russia re-emerged occupying the space left by the USSR. While all this was happening, China had started making unprecedented progress in all the domains of its CNP. It launched its expansionist agenda to include multiple counties / islands as its part besides making huge strides in the economic, military and space domain. It intelligently leveraged both Russia and USA for its growth and expanded its business volume with India despite border disputes.

European countries started looking at their security and programs beyond the USA and NATO. The European Union was created but primarily with an economic agenda. Before Europe could configure its security alliance without the USA, USA played a master stroke in the form of the Russia-Ukraine war consequent to which the dream of Europe without the USA collapsed forever and the possibility of Europe also emerging as a pole shrunk for times to come.

China’s emergence as a third pole in addition to the USA and Russia is a given fact but China is not happy with this status. It not only wants to become the superpower but only superpower in the world and wants to dislodge the USA from its pre eminence. China’s motive was understood by the Trump administration and the same continues even by the Biden administration resulting in strong USA-China rivalry in multiple domains.

India has also emerged on the world scene in a significant way. The higher the challenges, the better is the response .Economically, it dislodged its colonial masters, UK to reach the fifth slot. It is surging ahead to leave behind Germany and Japan and will become the third largest economy of the world in a few years if IMF assessments go correct. During the Covid onslaught when the best in the world failed, India not only manufactured its own vaccine but helped the world to save millions of lives. Space is another success story through ISRO wherein we not only send our own satellites into the desired orbit but help the other countries as well including the private sector.

The interconnected world today has also altered the concept of erstwhile ‘poles’. While in a larger sense USA, Russia ,China and India are the new poles of the world ,even tiny nations like Taiwan become a pole on certain counts viz production of semiconductors . India is gradually cementing its positions as the fourth pole of the world.

India has made tough choices in this multi polar and the emerging world. It has not shied away in confronting the world. It has not shied away in confronting China on the LAC in the Eastern Ladakh, a situation which continues till date. It has been on the side of Russia largely during the Russia-Ukraine war despite advocating diplomacy for the conflict resolution on a sustained basis.

India has stood by Russia in response to the current challenges when the USA and the entire West has been against it and in the process, it has re-iterated to the world that it values relationships with friends. India also went ahead in procuring the S-400 missile defence system from Russia despite opposition from the USA and the threat of CAATSA sanctions. USA yielded in understanding the Chinese threat to India and allowed special waiver from CAATSA sanction. India has also engaged the USA significantly.

It has become a member of QUAD as well as IPEF signaling a shift in its policy and accepting fresh alignments in the national interests. But while doing so, India has not been the mute spectator when it comes to its national interests. It spoke strongly against USA as well when USA supported Pakistan by giving close to $450 million for upgrading F-16 fleet and that too justifying use of such aircrafts against the terrorists. India has also taken strong objection to US Ambassador to Pakistan visiting POK and making anti India statements.

As we see the evolving approach of India in the emerging world , it has started operating from the National interest perspective. It has become assertive as well as capable. It dares to buy Russian oil for the benefit of its people despite opposition from the USA  and the West. At the same time, India does not mince its words clearly telling Putin during the SCO summit that it is not time for war and advocates diplomatic resolution of  the conflict. This India speaks to the USA from the position of strength opposing the new emerging axis between USA & Pakistan but partners USA on multiple fronts for national good.

As against exporting  Defence equipment  to more than 50 countries now, India dares to export defence equipment worth 2000 crore to Armenia including Rockets with ammunition at a time when Armenia is engaged with Azerbaijan in active war. The changed India has thus announced its place on the world stage wherein it does not mind even taking sides if it comes to its national interests.

Author is a Kargil war veteran and defence analyst. He is a visiting fellow of CLAWS and specialises in neighbouring countries with special focus on China. He can be contacted at and tweets from @chanakyaoracle.

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First published on: 11-11-2022 at 17:05 IST