Looking Back: India’s Vision Of Being A World Power

India’s vision of becoming a world power was spelt out by an anonymous official just two years after the country gained independence after two centuries of British colonial rule.

At a time when India has been questioned by many in the West for its stand on the Ukraine war, an essay titled “India as a World Power” that appeared in the July 1949 edition of the Foreign Affairs journal becomes a must read if only because it offers a glimpse into India’s long-standing view of itself and the world.

The anonymous official spoke of India as a “mother country venerable in her own right”, and said that “the forces driving to war can be checked only by the most persistent and patient effort to bring and hold all sides together — not by helping to build up the preponderance of one side.”

As a “mother country” India, therefore sees the world as one family (Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam) — and as Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said — it does not dream of its own rise at the cost of others.

Excerpts:

I.

“THOUGH the Indian Union is an infant state, India is no newcomer to history, no offshoot or colony newly risen to nationhood. She is a mother country, venerable in her own right; and her past, which is ancient as civilization, belongs to the essence of man’s achievement on this planet. Nor has India lain broken and buried under the tides of history for so long that, in her reëmergence, she is a mere vestige of her former self. Measured against the millennia that went before, the two centuries of British rule formed only a brief, if critical, interlude. Now that is over, and India steps once more with unimpaired vigour into the main stream of human affairs.”

II.

“The broad facts about India’s position are obvious enough. There are few parts of Asia where internal conditions are equally peaceful and stable. Her manpower and her latent resources give her an enviable advantage. Underdeveloped as she is, her organised industrial and military capacity still exceeds that of any nation in the east. She has no traditional enemies, nor has she acquired new ones; she has no vested interest of any sort in world affairs, except an interest in peace, a tradition of friendliness to all, and a readiness to coöperate with others for constructive ends.”

III.

“Where international disputes are concerned, India, therefore, can do no other than endeavour to view them without fear or prejudice or passion; to appraise them, without parti pris, in the light of the specific facts of each case; to disentangle and concentrate attention on the human and moral factors that may be involved, and strive for a settlement by conciliation and agreement.“

IV.

“Moreover, the forces driving to war can be checked only by the most persistent and patient effort to bring and hold all sides together — not by helping to build up the preponderance of one side, which in itself, and through its example upon others, can have no other result than that of widening the cleavage, pulling down the bridges and pushing the world a little nearer to the brink. This conviction is the mainspring of India’s foreign policy. It impels her — not toward isolationism or any fictitious neutrality — but to extend the hand of friendship to all, provided only that the price of friendship is not conformity or subservience; to retain and develop all existing friendly contacts as well as to establish new ones.”

V.

“The distinction between the terms east and west, which we have freely used, is not merely geographical. It is more truly a distinction between peoples and governments preoccupied with the elementary needs of humanity, with food and freedom and peace — and peoples and governments preoccupied with the more complex aspirations arising out of the possession of vast power. It is the distinction, as one might say, between the spinning wheel and the atom bomb.”

VI.

This is what lies at the root of the protest against “power politics” that is so often to be heard in the east. A population roughly equal to that of the rest of the world is for the first time claiming its rightful influence in the councils of the world. It demands that power shall be the servant of human welfare, not its master. There are still obstacles to be overcome before its voice can be heard clearly or before it can translate itself into unity of action. But its appearance should cause no anxiety except to minds too long accustomed to think of Asia as “a tool or a plaything.”

VII.

“It is time for a wider recognition in the west that we have come to the end of an historical epoch. The eclipse of India in the eighteenth century was not an isolated phenomenon: it was part of the world movement by which the science and technology of Europe captured Asia and turned it, under different forms, into an appanage of the west. India’s re-emergence is likewise related to the revival of the entire continent.”

VIII.

“It is not a racial movement: it is not animated by any hostile intent. It does not further the aggrandisement of any nation. Its purpose is wholly pacific and constructive — to broaden freedom and raise the standard of living. It is in consonance with all that is liberal, humane and disinterested in the western tradition. Its ultimate result must necessarily be to transform the politico-economic map of the world, and establish a new relationship between east and west. But the process is intertwined with what must surely be the supreme endeavour of our generation: to reduce and dissolve the disputes which, if widened or exacerbated, must plunge all the world into catastrophe. Whatever changes the future may bring, the Government and people of India will bend their energies to this twofold task.”

You can read the full article here.

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