Envisioning India’s Future

Our global vision must ensure plurality and collective prosperity. India must dream for humanity.

By: Arunima Gupta, Former Senior Manager, Strategic & Foreign Relations at Rashtram

Shyam Krishnakumar , Vision India Fellow

The article was originally published in DNA.

The source of this image is DNA.

68 years after we became a republic, India is poised to become the fifth largest economy according to a study by the Centre for Economics and Business Research. Recently, at the World Economic Forum Summit in Davos, Prime Minister Narendra Modi highlighted the country’s strengths and concerns, which garnered attention from his contemporaries reinstating India’s growing influence. As India rises steadily on the path of becoming a global power, our actions hold tremendous possibilities both for our people and the world in general. This presents us with both the opportunity and mandate to envision an India we aspire to create and the world order we wish to shape.

India’s rise is an opportunity to reimagine an India in consonance with our highest civilisational ideals: joy, sustainable prosperity, responsible freedom, ethical upliftment, peace and mutual respect and swarajya. These ideals, when they influence our foreign policy, have the potential to shape a plural global order. As potential leaders and shapers of tomorrow, the current global environment calls on us to envision an inclusive global order and then strive to make it a reality. This comes in the context of China’s increasingly expansionist agenda which sees globalisation as international connectivity for capitalist pursuits. On the other hand, the weakening of the liberal international order, most glaringly visible in Brexit and US protectionism, hints towards waves of anti-globalisation. With the international order in a state of flux, India needs a dream, an overarching vision to bring coherence to our actions, to act as a balancer between the policies of the East and the West and thereby connect with individuals, nations and regions for achieving collective and sustained prosperity.

Amidst this churn, India’s foreign policy approach has been undergoing a paradigm shift with economic and strategic relations gaining significant cultural undertones. The new approach is reflected in the foreign policy pillars of Panchamrit – Samman (dignity and honour), Samvaad(engagement and dialogue), Samriddhi(Shared Prosperity), Suraksha (regional and global security) and Sanskriti evam Sabhyata(culture and civilisational linkages). Panchamrit has begun to influence our international outreach. This has found place in our global engagements through the ‘Neighbourhood First’ and ‘Act East’ approach, as evidenced by Prime Minister Modi inviting the heads of all SAARC countries to his swearing-in ceremony in 2014 and more recently, his counterparts in the ASEAN for India’s Republic Day in January 2018. 

Similarly, the unanimous support of over 170 states at the United Nations General Assembly to celebrate International Day of Yoga, is a remarkable feat of cultural diplomacy. This cultivation of organic relations with our counterparts, based on cultural and civilisational linkages, is a vision of forging lasting linkages with our immediate and extended neighbourhood. Our aspiration for regional peace and stability has also given equal pedestal to our politico-economic and military exigencies as reflected in policy initiatives and stances such as Chabahar and Doklam. On a global level, we have strived to meet common concerns such as climate change, nuclear (dis)armament and international policies pertaining to security and trade. Our domestic policies have increasingly come to revolve around infrastructure and digitisation – the two pillars of the new age. These have in turn encouraged international cooperation through projects like Smart Cities and Make in India.

Though India has done fairly well in terms of immediate and short-term objectives, there is no evident overarching vision that brings clarity, coherence and long-term direction to both our domestic and foreign policy. India has no equivalent of America’s Manifest Destiny or China’s Middle Kingdom, visions that align political, economic, international and cultural dimensions and eventually become self-fulfilling prophecies. What is India’s dream for herself and the world? The answers to this question will give direction and purpose to our rise and determine the contours of both our domestic and foreign policy.

To envision India’s tomorrow, we must recapture the vision of India that ignited our souls, reawakened a civilisation and inspired us to realise our destiny as an independent nation. India’s brutal suffering under the colonial boot gave its leaders a rare empathy and concern for all the oppressed people of the world. Our freedom struggle had the audacity and the imagination to dream not only of an India we wished to bring to life; its vision embraced all humanity. It was, simultaneously, a promise to ourselves and a dream for the world. As Sri Aurobindo emphatically declared even in the early 1900s, India “does not rise, as other countries do, for self or when she is strong, to trample on the weak… India has always existed for humanity and not for herself, and it isfor humanity and not for herself, that she must be free.” From Sri Aurobindo’s vision of India’s rise furthering global evolution to the plural internationalism of Tagore’s Vishwa Bharati, there are a plethora of compelling visions of India’s role in the global order that the independence movement offers. Today, more than ever, we as a people need to recapture and reimagine this spirit and promise of India and the global order that she envisions.

India’s dream will shape how we look at the world, lending greater clarity to our foreign policy doctrine which would in turn guide our day-to- day interactions with nations. It will bring long-term coherence to our domestic policy. How India sees itself on the global stage, to a large extent will influence India’s domestic aspirations and these, when pursued, will enable us to realise and achieve our long-term global vision. Without each other, both will fall short. Therefore, India’s dream must have the depth and inclusivity to accommodate the individual aspirations of each citizen. Similarly, our global vision must ensure plurality, inclusivity and collective prosperity. Strategising this would require careful calibration, taking cognisance of the ground reality. While our vision has to be universal, our tactics must be informed by specifics of location, time and context. Commemorating 68 years of India’s successful democratic experiment, we must reawaken to India’s promise to herself and its dream for the world. Ultimately, India must dream for humanity.

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