Mother India at 75

By Advocate Ajay Sooklal, Dr. Srimal Fernando and Mr. Kirtan Bhana

Women ministers in PM Modi's team don handloom saris reflecting India's sartorial diversity. Seven women MPs took oath as union ministers in the expansion of the council of ministers in July this year. Pictured (l-r) Darshana Jardosh - Minister for Railways and Textiles, Pratima Bhoumik - Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment, Shobha Karandlaje - Minister of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, Smriti Z Irani - Minister for Women and Child Development, Nirmala Sitharaman - Minister of Finance and Corporate Affairs, Bharati Pravin Pawar - Minister of Health and Family Welfare, Meenakshi Lekhi - Minister of External Affairs and Culture, Anupriya Patel - Minister for Commerce and Industry and Annapurna Devi - Minister of Education.

15 August 2021

As the Indian tri-colour lights up buildings around the world and Jai Hind rings out not only in the sub-continent, but in many parts of the world, India celebrates and commemorates 75 years of progressive India and the glorious history of its people, culture and achievements.

Bharat, as India is also known, was a source of higher knowledge and wisdom for several thousand years as documentation of calendars and other historical records show. They also show that there was a deep understanding of the cosmos and its effects and influence on seasonal changes, weather patterns and climate conditions among others. Having this kind of information led to a multitude of discoveries in Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics, which are evident in the rich heritage of the Indian sub-continent.

At 75 years of Indian independence from its last occupier, colonial Britain, the Republic of India has acknowledged the impact its recent past has had in the current context and is in acceptance of the new challenges and opportunities of the present reality as it forges ahead innovating a better future. The nation of over a billion people has turned another corner as it defines itself in a rapidly transforming geo politic, changing social behaviour and re-aligning economic patterns.
 
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The neighbourhood first policy of the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatya Janata Party (BJP) and its National Democratic Alliance (NDA) coalition takes into cognisance the commonality of the traditions and customs of the inhabitants of the region. The observance of 14 August as ‘Partition Horrors Remembrance Day’ is a solemn reminder of the gruesome violence that tore a nation asunder resulting in a mindless conflict that still rages on today.

The 75th year of independence is also shared among other nations in the region and so is a new dynamic of solidarity brought about by the Covid-19 viral pandemic afflicting the global population. ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ - the world is one family - is the Sanskrit term that was used by Prime Minister Modi at the World Cultural Festival.

India, with its 912 million eligible voters roll, is the world’s largest democracy. In 2019 the month long election process saw the highest voter turnout since the adoption of a parliamentary democracy and constitution. Women voters accounted for the increase in the percentage of ballots cast. The number of women cabinet ministers has also grown and so has the participation of women in the Lok Sabha (House of the People) in the Indian Parliament.

India’s influence in the world has also vastly expanded. The presence of India in the UNSC in 2021 offers a unique opportunity for it to present its performance and capability in the global arena. Assuming the country's first Presidency during its 2021-22 tenure as a non-permanent member of the 15-nation UN body on 1st August, India took up the rotating Presidency of the UN Security Council. As Chair of BRICS this year India will host the 13th BRICS Summit under the theme ‘BRICS@15: Intra-BRICS Cooperation for Continuity, Consolidation and Consensus’. India will chair the G-20 in 2023. This period particularly provides the opportunity to drive India’s case for a position on the global high table.

The geopolitical significance of the Indian Ocean region combining Asia, Africa and Australasia is calling for greater attention of India’s foreign policy. The Defence Policy of India has been characterized by the status-quo with no aspirations for expansion or domination. Since independence, India has not been militarily dominant but instead has demonstrated a solid standing in resisting subordination. In the course of international relations, India has pursued a course of neutrality in its foreign policy orientation. Emerging as a regional power, a big leap forward in India’s defence policy was the launching of the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya commissioned in 2013.

Since independence, during the last seventy five years, India’s successive prime ministers have brought about changes to the country’s foreign policy while responding to the globally evolving geopolitical dynamics. The foreign policy approach of India has been chiefly characterized by coordinating its policies in line with the multipolar system and balancing its external policy expressions with outreach to various regions and regional groupings. It is about time now for India to transform its foreign policy from strategic autonomy to strategic influence. In order to create a sense of balance it appears reasonable to conclude that this article reflects on strengthening India’s security agenda in the six sub regions of the Indian Ocean through the five equally important Indian foreign policies: Neighbourhood First; Act East; Indo Pacific; Link West and Focus Africa Plan. The advancement of India’s strategic interests and opportunities for economic cooperation are provided through the various regional groupings of the region spanning from Asia, Africa and Australia. Hence, India should seize the opportunity of building closer bilateral and multilateral collaboration to boost its Economic and Foreign Policy agendas.

India can be seen to be engaging more with her neighbours in South and South East Asia with a new approach to managing big power relations. Cultural and economic diversity is a characteristic that describes the South Asian region. Over the years, this region has experienced various stages of transition. With the evolving geopolitical concerns in the South Asian region, Sri Lanka has been prompted to forge a deeper commitment to SAARC. India’s role in SAARC is significant given that it outlines the dynamics of interaction and political will between member nations. Having the concepts of peace and stability in mind, commercial diplomacy with a focus on developing wide-ranging foreign policies with India’s neighbours within the SAARC region will go a long way in supplementing the short-term responses to the pandemic's economic challenges. Going forward, to secure an economy that is resilient, India’s policy approach will need to prioritize the promotion of bilateral ties and enhance collaboration with its neighbours.

With its current Act East foreign policy, India is positioned powerfully among the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). India’s strategic autonomy and foreign policy principles of Non-alignment (NAM) have allowed the country to sustain a key place and respect among the South East Asian nations and beyond. ASEAN-India collaboration has taken an enormous leap as they successfully signed a free trade agreement, namely the ASEAN-India Free Trade Area (AIFTA) that came into force in 2010.

Over the last seven decades, US diplomacy with the Indian subcontinent has changed considerably. Reshaping the interests and the interdependencies of the United States (US) with India and other South Asian democracies, is the noteworthy renaming of the region as ‘Indo-Pacific’ that was previously known as ‘Asia-Pacific’. India has been one of the major beneficiaries of the new US foreign policy agenda.

The space policy of India is undergoing significant changes. When India was a newly independent nation, in the early decades of developing its space programme, India was very conscious of its resource constraints. However, over just more than the last decade, India, through the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) successfully launched Mangalyaan, the Mars Orbiter Mission and India’s lunar probe Chandrayaan 1. ISRO is one of very few government space agencies that has full launch capabilities.

India has stepped up efforts to lift the country’s sport profile in the global arena resulting in significant results. In the 2020 Summer Olympics held in Tokyo, India was represented by a record number of 124 athletes. India finished 48th on the medal tally, its highest ranking in over four decades.

‘Peaking at the right time’ is a phrase often associated with the world of sport, referring to an athlete who has attained the peak of performance when it is ideally needed to ensure success. This analogy can be attributed to India’s rise at a poignant time in the order of things in the world.

The rights guaranteed in the constitution, the ideals of freedom of expression and association and religious worship has led to the articulation of innovation and development. Space exploration, high technological advances in information, communication, infrastructure and manufacturing is as a direct result of the dynamism and diversity of the people. Achievements in the arts, sciences and commerce can also be attributed to the desire to succeed and be recognized as India finds its freedom from generations of tyranny, enslavement and occupation.

Advocate Ajay Sooklal is an Economic and Legal Diplomacy Consultant, Dr. Srimal Fernando is TDS Inter Regional Relations Advisor and Mr. Kirtan Bhana is Director at The Diplomatic Society.