Bengaluru: "On June 21, 2016, Modi joined 30,000 fellow citizens in a mass session of yoga in the heart of New Delhi. Interestingly, Modi's supporters cited the global prevalence of yoga as a sign of India's arrival on the world stage as a major global power," reads the introduction to From Chanakya to Modi: The Evolution of India's Foreign Policy, by Dr Aparna Pande, researcher at the Hudson Institute in Washington. What does yoga have to do with India's status as a global power, one asks. How was a connection so remote and so at odds with logic even discerned? The book was launched in the city Monday, with Nitin Pai, founder, Takshashila Institution, who engaged the author in a freewheeling conversation that dissected political philosophy from Kautilya's Arthashasthra to Chanakya and Sir William Meade's four pillars of American foreign policy, tracing the United States rise through their shift from isolationism to an outward looking, proactive globalist policy.
India, on the other hand, seems to have taken her advent to stardom very much for granted, an over-reliance on soft power and morality notwithstanding. Quoting Nehru, "We only have to wait for the world to recognise us", Dr Pande says that the 'how' of it throws up very few answers, prompting Pai to add later, "I like China's nine-dash-line way of foreign policy. Look at the map, choose the parts you really like, draw some dashed lines and say, “This is ours historically. India should try it too, we could claim everything, from Afghanistan to Doklam!"
India's approach to foreign policy, writes Dr Pande stems from the Indian belief that "their country has economic power, military strength and an important geo-strategic location. To them, that alone should be enough for global power status, coupled with India's 5000-year-old civilisation."
Our foreign policy, she notes, is dominated by morality and symbolism, with great emphasis laid on propriety that upholds what she calls the messianic ideology of Jawaharlal Nehru. This has led to undue pride in our civilisational history, with our rise to being a superpower accepted as being more or less inevitable. China's focus on economic and infrastructural growth and their territorial aggression, coupled with India's policy of isolationism, Dr Pande argues, gives a greater advantage in the subcontinent.
Indian foreign policy, Pai points out, values the importance of individuals rather than institutions. "Why do we need institutions at all, when we can swap it for our phone-a-friend culture," he asked.
"Institutions ensure you're planning 20 years, 40 years ahead. You have committees that ask questions to ensure that commissioned reports reach the public and that foreign policy is proactive, not reactive," replied Dr Pande, adding, "If we want to be a superpower, which comprises certain
dimensions, we need strong institutions in place."