The Takshashila Institution, in collaboration with the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), organised a panel discussion on a session in Bengaluru to discuss “Asserting Democracy in India’s Foreign Policy.” The event is a collaborative effort to deliberate new ways to make democratic values stand at the forefront of Indian foreign policy.
After welcome remarks from Dr. Niranjan Sahoo, Senior Fellow at ORF and Mr. Manoj Kewalramani, Associate Fellow at Takshashila, the panel commenced with Amb. Vijay Latha Reddy posed four key questions that would shape the discussion —
- Why does India not yet have a policy on democracy?
- Is India really a reluctant democracy as others label it?
- Why is India reluctant to assert democracy?
- Can regional forums and agencies be a platform for promoting democracy?
Ambassador N. Ravi outlined the history of India’s efforts to promote democracy and stated that India had done reasonably well in its effort to promote democracy, be it in protecting its own democratic values by building-up defences against adversaries or helping Bangladesh win independence. Amb. Ravi pointed out India’s relations with Afghanistan, where India has assisted the Afghan government in running elections. Speaking on India’s stance on the events in Russia, he said that every country must be left free to develop its own character, without external interference. He concluded that the best way to assert democracy is for India to showcase what it has achieved.
Building on Amb. Ravi’s comments, Pranay Kotasthane, head of Research at Takshashila, said that India can assert democracy in its foreign policy by striving towards solving many of the world’s problems that persist today. As India’s national interest is to achieve yogakshema — to bring peace and prosperity to all citizens, we must try solving problems in the areas of nuclear weapons, such as pushing for a Global No-First Use Treaty (GNFU) and countering climate change.
Zorawar Daulet Singh, a Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, spoke about India’s worldview and how it is different from the Western worldview in its characteristics. He said that India’s worldview is a hybrid of values and multi-civilisational, which accommodates a panoply of cultures. This, he said, is very different from that of the Western liberal order which is not accommodative in nature. With the backing of empirical evidence, he argued that Indian liberalism is very different from the West’s absolute liberalism. Dr. Singh concluded his remarks by providing a few policy recommendations. He stressed on capacity-building, improving people-to-people ties and improving our educational institutions.
Bringing our attention to India’s relations with its neighbours, Dr. Sudha Ramachandran pointed out that unlike the United States or the European Union — who provide direct assistance to promote democratic values, India’s support has been indirect, and has been done through and under the United Nations. This indirect assistance has mainly been done through development projects and providing aid through the UN.
However, Dr. Ramachandran argued that India taking credit for promoting democracy in its neighbourhood, such as Bhutan, is by itself undemocratic in nature. Sue further stated that India could do much more to improve democracy in Nepal and Bhutan as democracy has not matured fully in these countries. Taking a more critical approach, Dr. Ramachandran concluded her remarks by pointing out that despite India’s ambitions to promote democracy, it has failed in this effort.
Highlighting the past successes and unique nature of democracy in India, Ash Narain Roy, Director, Institute of Social Sciences (ISS), said democracy is about the means, and not about the ends. Mr. Roy drew a comparison between democracy in India and democracy in East Asia and stressed that India’s policy is to build strong democracy before building a strong economy, which is in strong contrast from how East Asian countries perceive democracy He concluded his remarks by stating that Indian exceptionalism is no delusion, but a reality.
At the end of the discussion, the panelists invited questions fro n the audience and provided additional insights and remarks. The event was concluded with a vote of thanks from Mr. Kewalramani.
(With inputs from Satvik Puti)