New Delhi: Grudgingly, Narendra Modi has returned India to Jawaharlal Nehru’s Non-Alignment. This magazine has ceaseless campaigned for this turnabout insisting that it was both necessary and inescapable. But like everything else, the complexion of Non-Alignment has also changed with the end of the Cold War. The Cold War demanded a reactive sort of Non-Alignment. India duly proclaimed its intention not to join either of the two rival Cold War blocs. The Cold War is over but a new Cold War has begun. The other change is that India has become a major economy without becoming a Major Power. Reactive Non-Alignment will, therefore, not work. This is more so because the new Cold War has less distinct blocs than the old one did. Globalization has also made geo-economics nearly as significant as geopolitics. India, thus, has to devise an upgraded form of Non-Alignment that keeps it at a distance from all the new Cold War rivals. At the same time, Non-Alignment Mark II must be proactive to bring to India the benefits of globalization and geo-economics without sucking it into Major Power rivalry.

The best way to approach the transformed dynamics of Non-Alignment is to commence from a relatively stable and constant position, which in this case would also be India’s national position. In the practise of proactive Non-Alignment, India must take geopolitical and geo-economic decisions that in the first instance benefit the country. For example, it should make clear to the United States that it will buy the S-400 missile system to cover neighbourhood threats without making them explicit. The less India spells out the threats it faces (learning from the disaster of Atal Behari Vajpayee’s Pokhran II letter to Bill Clinton), the fewer opportunities would be presented to foreign powers to exploitatively play on its fears. On the other hand, India should make clear to Russia that it will not be drawn into schemes of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization that range it against the United States. China should also be told politely but firmly that India’s geopolitical line set forth at the Shangri-La Dialogue has an “India First” policy at the core. India will follow its own line on geopolitics and geo-economics which may at times please Beijing and may not at others.

If the first principles of proactive Non-Alignment are clearly, unambiguously and manifestly laid out for the Major Powers to see, follow up actions become lots easier. The United States would understand (or at any rate eventually will) that Russian weapons systems in Indian hands do not alter the balance among the Major Powers in any manner. Russia would similarly be assured of India’s Non-Alignment in its adversities with the United States, Western Europe and with any anti-Russian security grid firming up in the Asia Pacific. And China would come to the realization that India is not part of any Western containment bid of China; but it would equally know that India would safeguard its interests with regard to disputed frontiers and territories with China, the Chinese threat to the Indian economy, and the Chinese geopolitical threat posed to India through its historical and cynical cultivation of Pakistan.

All this requires a delicate mingling of nuanced and forthright diplomacy. Would it preclude India from taking a principled stand on issues succumbing to the constraints of proactive Non-Alignment? Not at all. That danger and malignancy lay with reactive Non-Alignment. India was poor and weak when it started with it. Times have changed. Indeed, proactive Non-Alignment would place an extra burden on India to be just on important geopolitical and geo-economic questions of the day. For example, the relocation of the US mission to Jerusalem is vastly discriminatory to Palestinians and condemnable. Similarly, the annexation of Crimea by Russia and the occupation and militarization of strategic South China Sea islands by China are plainly illegal and proactive Non-Alignment would not prevent India from saying so. The natural question that arises is: What is there for the Major Powers to gain from India which practices proactive Non-Alignment? The world is, after all, much more transactional than it was at the end of World War II and the start of the Cold War. True enough. That question in turn demands the deepest search on the part of India within to provide convincing answers. And they are available.

While Jawaharlal Nehru’s Non-Alignment preserved India and insulated it from the dangers and malign consequences of the Cold War, P. V. Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh’s 1991 reforms built on the foundations laid by Nehru. Indeed, the reforms reinforced Non-Alignment. India grew economically stronger largely through its own means and genius. The 1991 reforms made India over a course of time into a major economic power and also helped transform it into one of the world’s greatest and most exciting marketplaces. Both these assets can power proactive Non-Alignment ahead, which in turn will feed the Indian growth and market depth stories. If the Indian growth story holds, India will not lack in Major Power suitors, never mind Non-Alignment. Totalitarianism did not prevent the rush to China.

It should be clear from this discussion that India has to think and plot ahead anchoring its geopolitics and geo-economics to proactive Non-Alignment. Before India disseminates the concept to the world, it must map every aspect of proactive Non-Alignment thoroughly to perfect it. Once the process is complete, the diplomatic propagation of Non-Alignment II will gain its own momentum. India is a unique state civilization, as unique, indeed, as China. Liberal democracy binds it on a moral plane to the West, but it is different from it in most other ways. Not only is Non-Alignment tailor-made for India; there is scarcely any other geopolitical paradigm that fits India or protects and advances its interests so comprehensively. Having benefited from the first incarnation of Non-Alignment, it is time enough to develop and embrace the second.