Academic journal article Indian Foreign Affairs Journal

India’s Foreign Policy and Security Challenges: Past and Present

Academic journal article Indian Foreign Affairs Journal

India’s Foreign Policy and Security Challenges: Past and Present

Article excerpt

India is a country that cherishes and derives its strength from the principle of unity in diversity. Our attire, dance, and music symbolise this unique diversity, as do our cuisine and festivals. All major religions have blossomed in India. The Semitic beliefs of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have been welcomed on our shores. At the same time, our own Indic religions rooted in our soil - Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism - have developed and grown in harmony. There have, however, been challenges that we have faced - and continue to face - on our land boundaries and our maritime frontiers, across the Indian Ocean to our east and to our west.

India's maritime history began in the 3rd millennium BCE, when the Indus Valley established maritime contacts with Mesopotamia. Following the Roman occupation of Egypt, trade flourished with the Roman Empire, not only on our west coast, but also with Tamil Pandyan Kings. The Chola Dynasty reached out beyond the shores of what is now Tamil Nadu, between the third and thirteenth Centuries. It extended its domains from Sri Lanka to Srivijaya (Indonesia), in Southeast Asia. Similar trade and maritime contacts flourished between the rulers of Kalinga (Orissa) and the kingdoms of South and Southeast Asia, including Myanmar, Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

Across our western shores, Quilon had growing trade links with the Phoenicians and the Romans. Trade with Mesopotamia and the shores of Africa flourished. Further north, the Marathas developed a maritime force that could challenge the ships of European powers like Portugal and Britain, till they inexplicably lost interest in maritime power. Trade flourished from our western shores across the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean, till European dominance of our sea-lanes gained ascendancy from the 18th century onwards. Till then, India and China played a significant and even dominant role in world trade. India is estimated to have had the largest economy in the medieval world till the 16th century. English historian Angus Madison has estimated that India's share in world income was then 27 percent, as against Europe's share of 23 percent. After three centuries of European domination, India's share of world trade had fallen to 1.9 percent of the global economy in 1950.

Sadly, any objective analysis will show that, for almost five decades after Independence, our economic performance was dismal. We were overtaken by China not just in economic growth, but also on human development indicators, like literacy, education, and life expectancy. Our performance in all these criteria also lagged behind the fast growing economies of East and Southeast Asia. We lag substantially behind China and our East Asian neighbours in economic progress. Even in South Asia, we rank third after Sri Lanka and Maldives, followed closely by Bhutan and Bangladesh. Pakistan and Nepal then follow. It is now clear that one of the reasons for us lagging behind our eastern neighbours in economic prosperity was our inability to emulate our eastern neighbours, who built theirs on their maritime trade globally.

In 1950, China's share in world trade was 1 percent and India's was 1.9 percent -virtually double that of China. In 2014, our share of world trade had fallen to 1.7 percent while China's had grown to 12.2 percent. This asymmetry has only increased with the passage of time. Worse still, has been our performance in economic indicators. The vast differences in our share of world trade also find reflection in the per capita incomes of the Indians and the Chinese. According to the International Monetary Fund, the per capita income in India is 6.69 percent lower than the world's average. India is ranked 34th in Asia on this score. One of the primary reasons for this dismal economic performance appears to be our less than realistic trade and economic policies, which focus more on autarchic import substitution and the virtual rejection of foreign investment and innovation, rather than building an outward looking, viable, vibrant, and internationally competitive economic base. …

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