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'India is clearly in a moment of transition'

February 01, 2012 08:25 IST

Dr Deepa Ollapally, Associate Director and Research Professor of International Affairs at George Washington University's Sigur Center for Asian Studies says, "For many outsiders, trying to get a fix on India's foreign policy, often is ambiguity and mixed signals."

Ollapally, the co-convenor of the conference organised by the Sigur Center in association with the Center for a New American Security on India as a Global Power, however acknowledged that "This shouldn't be entirely surprising because first of all, India is a tumultuous democracy and secondly, India's rise as a major power has been extremely rapid and to an extent, unexpected."

She spoke of how India has "Now catapulted to a position where many people talk about India and China in the same breath -- India is clearly in a moment of transition."

Ollapally reiterated, "Where the country had a fairly strong foreign policy consensus for nearly 50 years after independence, over the last several years, what we see is policy being much more contested in India."

Co-editor of the soon to be published World Views of Aspiring Powers: Domestic Foreign Policy Debates in China, India, Iran, Japan and Russia, said she had identified three major categories in India's foreign policy -- the nationalists, the realists, and the globalists.

She explained, "In the Indian scene, there is actually quite a bit of overlap between these groups and often it is these overlaps that most of the analysts tend to focus on."

Ollapally argued, "The most interesting aspect is the fact of the emerging differences of opinion on foreign policy."

The nationalists, she said comprise the standard nationalists, the neo-nationalists and the hyper-nationalists, and explained, the standard nationalists were the "long-standing, centrist group, historically making up the bulk of the Congress party and to a great extent, the other nationalist groups are all breakaway or offshoots of this centrist tendencies."

The neo-nationalists, Ollapally said, was a group that had gained its voice after the 1991 economic liberalisation "as critics of India's new path and urging really continued focus on domestic priorities."

She said that the hyper-nationalists school "which became vocal mostly after the 1998 nuclear tests, promoting a more ambitious military posture and a truly international scope to India's foreign policy."

The great power realists, Ollapally said, which also emerged after the Pokhran nuclear tests, were different in that they believed India was an emerging power and now on par with other major powers, "particularly on the global stage and becoming a pro-active political player."

The final liberal global school, which is post-1991 reforms, she said, was "One that embraces globalisation and economic integration."

Defending putting India's external policy into these categories, Ollapally reiterated that while "opinions may spillover between the schools, there are important divergences that will be lost if we don't do this kind of differentiation."

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC