By Pramit Pal Chaudhuri

All geopolitics is local. India’s long-term foreign policy vision will ultimately reflect its domestic political system. And the political choice the country has made is to be a democratic polity, even if it still has a lot of warts. How then do we explain India’s reticence to be a promoter of liberal values and position itself as a democratic nation?

I argue this reflects a combination of factors.

  • One, India’s poverty has made its populace see democracy as a functional choice rather than an ideological one. Until economic reforms took place, there was a sense democracy was a necessary burden. There is evidence this attitude is changing among a younger generation.
  • Two, India’s relative weakness militarily and limited capacity in other areas meant it was willing to compromise on democracy and values if security interests were at stake. This pattern can be discerned in its Burma policy, dealings with neighbors like Sri Lanka and, most obviously, in its relations with Russia and China.
  • Three, India’s political leadership is conscious that it is forging a nation – and that it is roughly at the stage of a 19th -century Western nation. Again, these local motivations can override its better instincts overseas, as seen in its tentative response to the Arab spring.

Otherwise, the Indian establishment is clear in its support for liberal international institutions. India wants to modify the present world order but never to overthrow it.

Pramit Pal Chaudhuri is Foreign Editor of the Hindustan Times.