Event ReportsPublished on Sep 30, 2019
The two most-important objectives of foreign policy is ‘security’ — both external and internal — and ‘economy’.
India must be a regional power to realise its aspiration of becoming a global power

In the 21st century, engaging with Asia has both strategic as well as economic dimensions and therefore goes beyond the rise of the Indo-Pacific. India has a major role to play in this spectrum of connectivity. With these words from Dr. Nilanjan Ghosh, Director — ORF Kolkata, began the two day National Conference on “Engaging Asia: India’s Foreign Policy in the 21st Century” in collaboration with the Jadavpur Association of International Relations, Indian Council for Social Science Research (ICSSR), Indian Council of World Affairs and Jadavpur University. Chairing the inaugural session, Prof. Rakhahari Chatterji, Advisor — ORF Kolkata, pointed out that India’s relation with her neighbours had never been very smooth and mistrust prevails about the country’s intentions. However if India is to realise its aspiration of becoming a global power, it must first become a regional power and hence this atmosphere of wariness must be cleared. Taking a cue, Dr. R.K.Satpathy, Director — ICSSR, in his address explained the nuances and highlights of India’s evolving foreign policy discourse. He articulated that the two most-important objectives of foreign policy is security (both external and internal) and economy — and India’s foreign policy has undergone a transition from non-alignment to multilateralism. Dr. Satpathy further observed that China is no longer considered a ‘pariah’ and the ties between the countries are marked by reciprocity. However faltering initiatives such as BBIN continue to pose a challenge and must be addressed. In the concluding part of the session, Dr. Jojin V. John, Research Fellow — Indian Council of World Affairs, remarked that in the new era of international governance, India must shape its domestic policies and structures accordingly. Dr. John asserted that using its tool of foreign policy, India must learn to mitigate new challenges like climate change.

In the next panel discussion, “Makers of Indian Foreign Policy,” Dr. Jayanta Bandhopadhyay, Visiting Distinguished Fellow — ORF Kolkata, while chairing the session highlighted that the theme of the panel as immensely important not only for foreign policy scholars but also others in order to comprehend the link between thinkers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Rabindranath Tagore and Indian foreign policy discourse. First speaker in the panel, Dr. Partha Pratim Basu, Professor, Department of International Relations — Jadavpur University, while speaking on the contributions of Ram Mohan Roy in the making of Indian foreign policy, observed that Ram Mohan Roy’s thought was not conventionally nationalist. Rather, it was more premised upon cosmopolitan thinking, as he looked at global concerns and was a part of the supranational global struggle of “world revolutionary process.” Dr. Basu, while tracing Ram Mohan’s influence on Nehruvian foreign policy discourse, suggested that the need for the emphasis on Ram Mohan’s cosmopolitanism is still relevant in an era of globalisation. Dr. Shibashis Chaterjee, Professor, Department of International Relations — Jadavpur University, speaking on ‘Internationalism of Tagore’ began with a disclaimer that there is no linkage between Rabindranath Tagore and foreign policy as he was a poet not a theorist. But it can be traced in Tagore’s geo-civilisational idea of resurgent Asia where the interactive nature of a nation’s cultural existence remains important. Tagore called that a need for sharing pathos for understanding culture of a country. Prof. Chaterjee observes that while Tagore was against the coercive and avaricious aspects of state and capitalism, he espoused the logic of rationality and modernity attached to it. According to Prof. Chatterjee, Tagore suggests that cartographic territorial boundaries are inadequate without basic commitment to broader humanity. He also argued that both reason and passion are important like different parts of the body. Thus, the specificity of Tagore’s thought lies in this inter-sectionality of the global and the particular and in this context one has to make an attempt to trace Tagore in Indian foreign policy discourse.

The last session of the day, which was chaired by Dr. Nilanjan Ghosh, discussed the “Shifting dynamics of the Indo-Pacific.” The first speaker, Dr. Sachin Pardhe, Associate Professor — University of Mumbai, provided a theoretical understanding of the term Indo-Pacific and its growing importance. According to Dr. Parde, the term intends to connect two ocean regions, namely the Indian Ocean and the Asia-Pacific. Despite being distinct geopolitical arenas, there exist several rationales for blending them together. Changing balance of power globally and regionally, shifting power dynamics from the West to the East, a shift in focus from land to the sea and growing dominance of economics are some of the favourable factors that have led to the growing emergence of the region as a major foreign policy arena. Dr. Parde further observed that India's engagement in the Indo-Pacific has gone beyond conventional areas to more science-oriented domains like disaster mitigation, collaboration for space technology etc. Dr. Anamitra Anurag Danda, Senior Visiting Fellow — ORF Kolkata, mentioned the collaboration between India and the smaller island states for ocean observation. According to him, the operationalisation and exchange of data generated by Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS), along with deployment of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) for disaster mitigation in the region, have been a hallmark of cooperation beyond traditional areas. India has systems in place for providing alerts and forecasts for the region on a regular basis, and conduct training in the domain of Earth-observation science. Dr. Ghosh concluded by stressing on the needs of the present time to look beyond the conventional areas and explore new frontiers, while fine-tuning the economic areas of cooperation by identifying the drivers of economic growth in the region.

The second day of the conference was the “Young Scholar’s Meet” in which young scholars and academicians from various institutions like Jadavpur University, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Jamia Milia Islamia, Delhi University, Presidency University and others participated and around 36 research papers were presented throughout the day. The first session “India and Its Neighbourhood” was chaired by Dr. Anasua Basu Ray Chaudhury, Senior Fellow — ORF Kolkata. The session comprised of papers on various dimensions of India’s evolving neighbourhood policy in general and India’s bilateral relations with its neighbours in particular. The second session of the day which was chaired by Jojin V. John, Research Fellow, ICWA, deliberated on the theme “India and the World.” In this session, the presenters expressed their views on India’s evolving relationship with important powers like Japan, China, Israel and India’s strategic positioning in the Indo-pacific. The third session, which was chaired by Dr. Sachin Parde, Associate Professor — University of Mumbai, dealt with the theme “Instruments of Engagement: Regionalism and Soft Power.” The papers presented in the session discussed India’s potential prospects of regional and sub-regional diplomatic and strategic interactions. The multi-dimensional nature of India’s soft power diplomacy, non-traditional security threats and leadership factor in Indian foreign policy also came up in the course of this session. The last session delved into the theme “India’s Emergence in the Global Order: Opportunities and Impediments,” and was chaired by Dr. Maitrayee Guha, Assistant Professor — Seth Soorajmull Jalan Girls’ College. The papers in this session dealt with crucial areas like India’s strategic positioning in the maritime architecture in the IOR region, India’s defense modernisation and the impact of India’s economic liberalisation on its foreign policy trajectory.

This report is compiled by Ambar Kumar Ghosh with inputs from Sohini Bose, Roshan Saha, Sayanangshu Modak, Mihir Bhonsale and Jaya Thakur.

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