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'India won't go out of its way to promote democracy'

June 05, 2012 16:30 IST

Democracy will remain central to India's national identity, but will not be a conscious axis of its foreign policy, reports Aziz Haniffa

Souresh Roy, a protege of Professor Amitabh Matoo, director of the Australia India Institute at the University of Melbourne, whose research involves India's foreign policy, international security as well as arms control and disarmament, said, "Democracy will remain central to India's national identity but will not be a conscious axis of its foreign policy."

"What I mean to say is that democracy is a desirable value to have, but India is not going to go out of its way to promote democracy elsewhere," he said, and argued, "First of all, because it's not easy to promote, and secondly, often India has to deal with authoritarian governments of national interests or strategic considerations."

This was yet another apparent rebuttal of the viability of the kind of US-India strategic partnership that Washington envisages where India is looked upon as a partner in fostering democracy worldwide and causes consternation, particularly in the United States Congressional circles not to mention even among some administration officials and policy pundits at think tanks, when it does not tow Washington's line vis-a-vis ties with the likes of Iran, Cuba, and Burma -- to a lesser extent where the latter is concerned now that the US itself has begun a dialogue with the generals in Yangon with the release of Nobel laureate and Democratic activist Aung San Sun Kyi.

Roy, a panelist in the Sigur Center's discussion of power and identity in India, said, "India wants to be a model to be emulated," even though it had no desire to go on the road to spread democracy globally, like the neo-conservatives in the US would, like the Richard Perles, the Dick Cheneys, the Paul Wolfowitzs' of the world as they saw in terms of pushing (former US) President George W Bush into invading Iraq for example to impose their own aggressive versions of Jeffersonian democratic principles.

But, he said, "If you go to New Delhi these days, the discourse on relations with Pakistan would be more on how to strengthen democratic institutions, how to strengthen civil society organisations in Pakistan."

Roy said, "If you leave aside the hawkish parts that is in the establishment, it is more in terms of how to do things on the margin, rather than go the whole hog in going ahead in promoting democracy."

Earlier, in his opening remarks, he said when one talks of Indian's foreign policy, what usually emerges is "exaggerated caricatures" that include arguments that "India does not have a coherent tradition of strategic thinking and that India's foreign policy is dictated by a combination of idealism and realism."

With regard to Asia overall, Roy said, "The realists in India, will want complete integration with the US whereas the power driven nationalists would prefer a kind of strategic integration, which excludes China so that India can reap maximum benefits."

Meanwhile, he argued that the "identity driven (nationalists) would ask for an integration without excluding China."

Thus, according to Roy, "India will be driven into an alliance with the US only when it sees China as an existential, imminent danger and not before that."

With regard to the recent report, Non-alignment 2.0, which has created quite a buzz in US policy circles, he said, "Non-alignment is the label you give and strategic autonomy is the value that it wants to have -- it does not want to be seen as threatened."

Roy said, "That is as true as it was in the 1960s as it is today, and will remain in the near future as well -- strategic autonomy in the sense the ability to expand the milieu in terms of choices that once can make in the international system, and also not get entrapped by getting into alliances on balance of power dictums."

 

 

 

Aziz Haniffa in Washington DC