India’s role on the international stage is becoming increasingly important in politics, academia, and the media. Where is India headed under Prime Minister Modi, and what can be expected of it as negotiation partner? It has now been 70 years since the country gained independence, and to mark this anniversary, Chatham House has published a special issue entitled “India’s Rise at 70.” GIGA president Amrita Narlikar collaborated on this thematic edition of International Affairs, a leading international relations journal. On 13 January, publishers and authors presented the special issue at the GIGA in Hamburg and discussed India’s rise in a changing international system.
In her introductory remarks, Manjari Chatterjee Miller of Boston University outlined the complex position in which India currently finds itself. Relative to China – the other large aspiring power – India is frequently viewed as a partner rather than a threat. In the big picture, one point of view is particularly surprising to Miller: “India’s foreign policy is much more characterised by continuity than generally considered,” she said. “It is not static, but incremental, and changes bit by bit.”
Modi’s Pragmatism and the Question of Global Governance
Prime Minister Modi’s policies are often described as pragmatic. Kate Sullivan de Estrada of University of Oxford dedicated her talk to this attribution. “Modi is not pragmatic in the way the term is generally used, in the sense of side-stepping ideologies,” clarified Sullivan de Estrada. “For Modi, being pragmatic is picking and choosing ideas and ideologies to serve domestic interests, not putting them to one side.”
In her contribution, Amrita Narlikar analysed India’s role in global governance. She pointed out that most observers of Indian diplomacy and foreign policy in the past have noted that India was a difficult negotiating partner for the West. Policy-makers argued that India is too poor to provide global public goods or contested the provision of particular existing public goods in the first place. Narlikar explained that these two arguments effectively translate into a lack of ability and a lack of will. “Both are potentially up for change under Modi,” said the GIGA president.
She called on the industrialised countries to meet the rising powers as equals and to better understand their negotiating cultures and historical trajectories in order to to facilitate consensus building in various international institutions.
The Mistakes of the West and India as a “Global Game Changer”
Under the adept moderation of Andreas Cichowicz, editor-in-chief of Northern German Broadcasting, one of the largest public radio and television broadcasters in Germany, the panellists discussed whether India is influencing Western ideas of liberal democratic order, what mistakes the West has made in relation to the country, and the extent to which culture and history shape India’s behaviour at the negotiating table.
The subsequent Q&A round reflected the audience’s diverse professional and private interests: Is Modi a unique phenomenon or should he be seen as part of a movement? To what extent can India fundamentally shape the UN’s international negotiating style? And will India become a global game changer?
“Ideas about India are typically laden with stereotypes and prejudice,” noted moderator Andreas Cichowicz at the event’s start. This inspiring evening ultimately worked against these stereotypes by providing deep and rare insights into the South Asian country and the international political environment.
The International Affairs special issue “India’s Rise at 70" is accessible free of charge for a limited time frame.