New Delhi: If you observe the principle of Non-Alignment as a political outcome, you would be excused for thinking that a coalition prime minister designed it as the least of the evils of the Cold War. Jawaharlal Nehru, however, was masterful prime minister of a single party government. But he knew when to take a backseat. Directly-elected presidents and majority PMs usually do not know when to stop. They are often tempted to carry their authoritarianism to foreign lands. On the other hand, coalition prime ministers are reminded of limitations of power all the time. They won’t launch a disastrous two-front war like Adolf Hitler did.

Apart from the exception of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s most self-restrained and noteworthy prime ministers from a geopolitical perspective have been heads of coalition governments. P. V. Narasimha Rao was the rock that kept the country from disintegrating from the forces unleashed by the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The 1991 reforms were a bonus. Atal Behari Vajpayee continued Narasimha Rao’s good work and set the foundations for close US-India ties which, despite the strains introduced by the Donald Trump administration, will grow in the coming years. And Manmohan Singh, however “accidentally” he became prime minister for ten years, will be remembered for bringing India into the mainstream of nuclear power states. Staking his office and his personal prestige, he resolutely propelled the Indo-US nuclear agreement through domestic political minefields and opened the door for uranium fuel imports.

Against this background, the single-party government of Narendra Modi which came to power in May 2014 has proved manifestly unsuccessful and created little of substance and historical value. In years to come, “surgical strikes” will fade from public memory, Modi’s overseas “event management” would be derided if recollected, the “diplomacy of hugs” would be cruelly skewered, and the erratic nature of his foreign policy (if it can be called that), alternating between offense and appeasement, would serve as object lessons for administrations not to repeat. All told, India would be better placed, geopolitically, if a succession of internally stable coalition governments comes to power at the Centre. Conventional wisdom points to such a trend marking a beginning in the general election due in months. Successful coalition governments are usually headed by wise and temperate prime ministers. Narasimha Rao and Vajpayee were rich repositories of wisdom. India would need all the wisdom it can muster to tackle intractable problems of a post-Cold War world.

Cast a look around. No part of the world is stable and in control of things, so to speak. To begin with, there are no Great Powers guaranteeing global peace and stability. A Great Power is one that perpetuates itself by successfully managing the external environment. The United States is no longer a Great Power and at the best a Major Power. It is not all-powerful as it was at the end of the Second World War. Russia is no more a Great Power and probably occupies a position between regional power and Major Power. China, after its thrashing in Donald Trump’s trade war, has fallen several notches and gives every appearance of being a flailing regional power. The situation is no rosier for still lesser powers. In its drift and hopelessness amidst the Brexit crisis, Britain has been thrown back to the dark decades immediately after the war. Without an Empire to bleed and fatten on, Brexit will kill the UK.

Not that the European continent is doing well. France was always a mess but it has gotten messier under Emmanuel Macron. An autocrat who has displayed little understanding of France’s stagnation to prepare a redemptory roadmap with people’s support, Macron has become deeply unpopular in less than two years of becoming president. Voters are incredulous that they brought such a misfit to power. The situation with the other autocratic president across the Atlantic, Donald Trump, is equally hopeless. While his instincts to consolidate US power are creditworthy, he has almost no friends in Washington, the power capital of the world, and the American establishment would be only too happy to dump him while embracing his America First policies. The geopolitical fallout of America First, going forward, would likely see a contraction of US military forces around the world, whose impact will be most definitely felt in unstable, conflicted Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Russia and China, should they be tempted to occupy the spaces vacated by the United States, would suffer the same strategic overstretch as the Soviet Union did in its last years.

For India, this is a time of peril. It demands abundant caution. An adventurous foreign policy has to be shunned for one that encourages political, societal, economical and military consolidation. It will take, as the Red Queen said to Alice in Through a Looking Glass, “...all the running you can do to stay in the same place”. Non-Alignment in conjunction with the wisdom of successful, liberal and reformist coalition prime ministers is what the doctor ordered for India. If 2019 marks the beginning of such a fortuitous occurrence, it can only be welcomed.