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Indian Geopolitical Hedging and Geopolitical Balancing 2021 Invalid Policy Options Contextually

Paper No. 6771           dated 7-April-2021

By Dr Subhash Kapila

Indian PM Modi would be well advised to steer clear of policy advisories suggesting Geopolitical Hedging or Geopolitically Balancing. Contextually in 2021, if PM Modi wishes to propel India on an ascendant power trajectory as a Major Global Power then unfolding geopolitical scenarios rule out such policy options.

Power-play wisdom must dawn on India in that the global power system no geopolitical or strategic space exists for “Platonic Strategic Partnerships” as national strategies. ‘Strategic Ambiguity’ under garb of “Strategic Autonomy’ cannot be the hallmarks of India as it ascends global power trajectories.

Perceptionaly, India in last six years and moreso since 2019 has made its geopolitical and strategic preferences clear by India institutionalising integrated security mechanisms under the ambit of US-India Strategic Partnership which now stands elevated to a Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership.

Resurgent India’s aspirations to acquire the status of a Major Power was lent a bold voice by the United States by different political dispensations over the last two decades that the United States would assist India to emerge as a Major Power on the global stage.

Would Russia or China, singly or jointly, ever make such bold assertions of assisting India to emerge as a Major Power?

India’s active participation in the QUAD and strengthening of its strategic partnerships with Japan and Australia with NATO also hoping for greater interaction with India as an Emerged Power were natural corollaries of the above. Why should India be apologetic about it or dithering from its well-calibrated choices? 

Geopolitical Hedging and Geopolitical Balancing policy options perceptionaly were indicative of India’s long discarded Nehruvian foreign policy shibboleths which straitjacketed India in a frozen geopolitical mould of the proverbial ‘Three Monkeys’----Speak no Evil, Hear No Evil & See No Evil’.

Geopolitical Hedging and Geopolitical Balancing which were the bane of Indian foreign policy did not yield the desired results for India of a peaceful security environment. Contrarily, what such Indian foreign policy options spawned for India were four wars inflicted by Pakistan on India and a humiliating military debacle of the1962 War by China.

Resultantly from such timid political mindsets of India’s then political leadership Inia’s arrival on the global geopolitical stage and ascending the power trajectories was impeded for decades. So also neglected was the War Preparedness of Indian Armed Forces emerging from political complacency and misreading of China’s intentions that India would not be politically or militarily be coerced.

In 2021, PM Narendra Modi has been successful in propelling India into global geopolitical consciousness and strategic calculuses of Major Powers capitals that India in the period 2014-21has now emerged as an Emerged Power with ‘Political Will’ and ‘Political Decisiveness’ to use the instruments of power at India’s disposal.

India politically and militarily standing upto and blunting China’s unprovoked military aggression in Eastern Ladakh from April 2020 to February 2021 coupled with similar pushbacks against China in the Dokalam Military Standoff of 2018 were unambiguous indicators of India’s new found ‘Political Will’ and ‘Military Will’ and ‘Sensitivity to India’s ‘National Honour & Sovereignty’.

China at the moment of writing has effected disengagement of its military forces in Eastern Ladakh to pre-April 2020 positions which was India’s aim and now negotiating with India on 2-3 more contentious positions in Eastern Ladakh.

In tandem, India’s diplomatic isolation of Pakistan and Indian ripostes of massive retaliation with disproportionate force to Pakistan Army’s LOC escalation of military skirmishes has led to Pakistan now agreeing to honour the 2003 Ceasefire Agreement.

In global power play where perceptions count heavily, India in 2021 under PM Modi & BJP Government led by him scored decisively that India was no longer a country to be provocatively trifled with nor was India confused in its foreign policy directions. India had tipped the geopolitical scales in India’s favour and contextually heavily weighted against China and Pakistan.

Should India be then seen to be frittering away the unprecedented perceptional gains that it has made in diplomatic wars with China and Pakistan or what the Indian Armed Forces have sanctified by their blood and valour on the LAC and LOC to propel India to perceptional geopolitical heights the world over?

Why I pose this question is that I am getting a disturbed feeling that in recent weeks when all the above tangible gains have been made by India then why is there creeping in Indian foreign policy manifestations and Indian strategic discourse of opinions and advisories of India’s need for Geopolitical Hedging and Geopolitical Balancing?

Why does Indian foreign policy presided by PM Modi’s indomitable leadership continue to manifest hedging and balancing impulses like India’s continued membership of China-led or China-dominated organisations like SCO and BRICS or AIDB? Why should India participate in SCO military exercises with Chinese Army and Pakistan Arm contingents? Why should India be hosting SCO Summit in New Delhi this year?

If it is intended only to please Russia then that can be done bilaterally and not multilaterally and dancing with India’s wolverine enemies with whom Russia is currently cavorting with. Russia openly tilts towards China then why India has to be apologetic in tilting towards the United States, Europe and Japan?

The fig-leaf of Strategic Autonomy’ is then further advanced to plaster over the weak-kneed Nations option of Geopolitical Hedging and Geopolitical Balancing.

The logical question that should prop up for the Indian Prime Minister, Indian policy establishment and thinking Indian public is that which nations are most affected by firming-up of India’s robust foreign policy and military will?

The obvious answer is that it is China and Pakistan that are the most affected nations by India tipping the global perceptional balance in favour of India reinforced and manifested by even Major European Powers growing consciousness that China Threat has acquired contours threatening Asian and global security.

To the Indian proponents of Geopolitical Hedging and Geopolitical Balancing abounding in India’s arm-hair strategists’ community and Indian academia, the question that I wish to pose is that whether India would not have reached this enviable stature without the US-India Strategic Partnership attendant on India’s unambiguous and robust foreign and military policies.

The United States across different political spectrums has in the last two decades has publicly asserted in bold print that it would assist India in emerging as a Major Global Player. Can Russia and China make similar declarations?

India to come of strategic age and maturity must now learn to take sides and not shirk from power politics. Contextually, when the world over Major Powers are strategically coalescing together to push back China’s unrestrained military expansionism on its peripheries including India then a strong case exist for India to coalesce itself in such groupings.

Once again clearly visible in foreign policy journals coverage is that with India shedding its fossilised policy shibboleths and investing pro-actively in institutionalising cooperative mechanisms in  the US-India Strategic Partnership, the global balance of power is now stacked against coping with the China Threat.

Geopolitically no cogent reasons emerge to suggest that India should adopt Geopolitical Hedging in its policy approaches towards China. The China Threat is real, live and potent and India cannot wish it away.

Having ruled out Geopolitical Hedging by India as suggested by many China-Pundits in India as an impractical proposition because of the severe Strategic Distrust that China has generated in India and on the Indian national psyche, let us now examine as to where India should apply Geopolitical Balancing?

Obviously and as geopolitical logic would suggest that if India needs to adopt Geopolitical Balancing policies then China emerges to the fore as the most prominent nation that India needs to geopolitically balance.

In 2021 it should be evident to even the most naive sceptical policy pundit that India is not the only country with strong imperatives for Geopolitical Balancing of a militaristic China on a wild rampage on its peripheries. Even Europe has joined in towards this geopolitical end with European Navies making their presence felt in South China Sea.

Then what impels policy pundits in India to advocate Geopolitical Balancing as an Indian policy precept? Compulsive obsessive attachment to Non-Alignment fixations since consigned to dustbins of Indian policy history.

Concluding, once again it needs to be emphasised that India in the last six years has well-chosen its geopolitical and strategic directions and in 2021 India can ill afford by geopolitical dithering to confuse the wide global consensus that has emerged to support India’s role as a Major Power on the global stage